Thermal barrier coating

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Thermal barrier coatings (TBC) are highly advanced materials systems usually applied to metallic surfaces, such as on gas turbine or aero-engine parts, operating at elevated temperatures, as a form of exhaust heat management. These coatings serve to insulate components from large and prolonged heat loads by utilizing thermally insulating materials which can sustain an appreciable temperature difference between the load-bearing alloys and the coating surface.[1] In doing so, these coatings can allow for higher operating temperatures while limiting the thermal exposure of structural components, extending part life by reducing oxidation and thermal fatigue. In conjunction with active film cooling, TBCs permit working fluid temperatures higher than the melting point of the metal airfoil in some turbine applications.


Ceramic topcoat
Thermally grown oxide
Metallic bond coat
Superalloy substrate

Thermal barrier coatings typically consist of four layers: the metal substrate, metallic bond coat, thermally grown oxide, and ceramic topcoat. The ceramic topcoat is typically composed of yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ) which is desirable for having very low conductivity while remaining stable at nominal operating temperatures typically seen in applications. Recent advancements in finding an alternative for YSZ ceramic topcoat identified many novel ceramics (rare earth zirconates) having superior performance at temperatures above 1200 °C, however with inferior fracture toughness compared to that of YSZ. This ceramic layer creates the largest thermal gradient of the TBC and keeps the lower layers at a lower temperature than the surface.

TBCs fail through various degradation modes that include mechanical rumpling of bond coat during thermal cyclic exposure, especially, coatings in aircraft engines; accelerated oxidation, hot corrosion, molten deposit degradation. There are issues with oxidation (areas of the TBC getting stripped off) of the TBC also, which reduces the life of the metal drastically, which leads to thermal fatigue.

The TBC can also be locally modified at the interface between the bondcoat and the thermally grown oxide so that it acts as a thermographic phosphor, which allows for remote temperature measurement.


Thermal barrier coating applied onto automotive exhaust system
Thermal barrier coating applied onto carbon composite


Thermal barrier ceramic coatings are becoming more common in automotive applications. They are specifically designed to reduce heat loss from engine exhaust system components including exhaust manifolds, turbocharger casings, exhaust headers, downpipes and tailpipes. This process is also known as "exhaust heat management". When used under-bonnet, these have the positive effect of reducing engine bay temperatures, therefore reducing the intake air temperature.

Although most ceramic coatings are applied to metallic parts directly related to the engine exhaust system, technological advances now allow thermal barrier coatings to be applied via plasma spray onto composite materials. It is now commonplace to find ceramic-coated components in modern engines and on high-performance components in race series such as Formula 1. As well as providing thermal protection, these coatings are also used to prevent physical degradation of the composite material due to friction. This is possible because the ceramic material bonds with the composite (instead of merely sticking on the surface with paint), thereby forming a tough coating that doesn't chip or flake easily.

Although thermal barrier coatings have been applied to the insides of exhaust system components, problems have been encountered because of the difficulty in preparing the internal surface prior to coating.


Interest in increasing the efficiency of gas turbine engines for aviation applications has prompted research into higher combustion temperatures. Turbine efficiency is strongly correlated with combustion temperature through the completeness of the combustion reaction. Lower temperature combustion breaks fewer hydrocarbon bonds and ultimately produces less thrust requiring more fuel.[2] Thermal barrier coatings are commonly used to protect nickel-based superalloys from both melting and thermal cycling in aviation turbines. Combined with cool air flow, TBCs increase the allowable gas temperature above that of the superalloy melting point.

To avoid the difficulties associated with the melting point of superalloys, many researchers are investigating ceramic-matrix composites (CMCs) as high-temperature alternatives. Generally, these are made from fiber-reinforced SiC. Rotating parts are especially good candidates for the material change due to the enormous fatigue that they endure. Not only do CMCs have better thermal properties, but they are also lighter meaning that less fuel would be needed to produce the same thrust for the lighter aircraft.[3] The material change is, however, not without consequences. At high temperatures, these CMCs are reactive with water and form gaseous silicon hydroxide compounds that corrode the CMC.

SiOH2 + H2O = SiO(OH)2

SiOH2 + 2H2O = Si(OH)4

2SiOH2 + 3H2O = Si2O(OH)6[4]

The thermodynamic data for these reactions has been experimentally determined over many years to determine that Si(OH)4 is generally the dominant vapor species.[5] Even more advanced environmental barrier coatings are required to protect these CMCs from water vapor as well as other environmental degradants. For instance, as the gas temperatures increase towards 1400 K-1500 K, sand particles begin to melt and react with coatings. The melted sand is generally a mixture of calcium oxide, magnesium oxide, aluminum oxide, and silicon oxide (commonly referred to as CMAS). Many research groups are investigating the harmful effects of CMAS on turbine coatings and how to prevent damage. CMAS is a large barrier to increasing the combustion temperature of gas turbine engines and will need to be solved before turbines see a large increase in efficiency from temperature increase.[6]


In industry, thermal barrier coatings are produced in a number of ways:

  • Electron Beam Physical Vapor Deposition: EBPVD
  • Air Plasma Spray: APS
  • High Velocity Oxygen Fuel: HVOF
  • Electrostatic Spray Assisted Vapour Deposition: ESAVD
  • Direct Vapor Deposition

Additionally, the development of advanced coatings and processing methods is a field of active research. One such example is the Solution precursor plasma spray process which has been used to create TBCs with some of the lowest reported thermal conductivities while not sacrificing thermal cyclic durability.


  1. ^ F.Yu and T.D.Bennett (2005). "A nondestructive technique for determining thermal properties of thermal barrier coatings". J. Appl. Phys. 97: 013520. doi:10.1063/1.1826217. 
  2. ^ "Perepezko, J. H. The Hotter the Engine, the Better. Science 326, 1068–1069 (2009)"[1]
  3. ^ "Evans, A. G., Clarke, D. R. & Levi, C. G. The influence of oxides on the performance of advanced gas turbines. Journal of the European Ceramic Society 28, 1405–1419 (2008)"[2]
  4. ^ "Padture, N. P., Gell, M. & Jordan, E. H. Thermal Barrier Coatings for Gas-Turbine Engine Applications. Science 296, 280–284 (2002)"[3]
  5. ^ "Jacobson, Nathan S., Elizabeth J. Opila, Dwight L. Myers, and Evan H. Copland. "Thermodynamics of gas phase species in the Si–O–H system." The Journal of Chemical Thermodynamics 37, no. 10 (2005): 1130-1137"[4]
  6. ^ "Zhao, H., Levi, C. G. & Wadley, H. N. G. Molten silicate interactions with thermal barrier coatings. Surface and Coatings Technology doi:10.1016/j.surfcoat.2014.04.007"[5]