High-Pressure Research Centre presents “super materials”

They are especially hard and tough: the new high-performance materials, which the Research School was able to produce for the first time.

The High-Pressure Research Centre at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, financed by the Dr. Erich Krüger Foundation, is working since several years on the development of new high-performance materials, which are especially hard and can be processed quickly, permanently and precisely. Amongst other applications, they shall save costs in deep drilling for oil, gas and geothermal energy. Now the research team presented first practical results to the Foundation Committee.

Several innovative materials were already created under extreme pressures and temperatures (like meteor strikes) in Europe’s largest blasting chamber, which in the scope of the project had been constructed deep underground in the university’s mine. Now they are analysed in the laboratories of the university with regard to their specific properties and structures. “The current challenge is to further process the synthesised powdery substances to larger test specimens, without changing the unique properties of the original materials“, explains Prof. Matthias Reich of the Institute of Drilling Engineering and Fluid Mining.

Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in this regard: The researchers were able to manufacture initial cutting plates and hammer inserts in the high-performance presses and spark plasma sintering plants, which are now analysed on a high-tech drilling test rig with respect to their qualification for rock destruction. With the so-called “near nano” tungsten carbide materials they already succeeded in manufacturing very hard and tough test specimens from fine powder. Due to improved microstructures, these materials are harder than customary material with the same chemical composition. At the same time the ductility was improved by adding cobalt.

The new materials have already proven their value in drilling tests in sediment rocks. However, the actual challenge is to efficiently destroy also extremely hard rock such as e.g. granite. In collaboration with several German oil companies, the researchers were able to develop totally new concepts for drill hammers, which can be used in the drill holes of the petroleum industry at a depth of several kilometres. These drill hammers shall be equipped with inserts from the new materials of the High-Pressure Centre and tested in the field in the medium term. The team of researchers presented to the Foundation Committee of the Dr. Erich Krüger Foundation initial prototype inserts, which are already used for drilling in different types of rock on the laboratory scale. Some drilling companies assist the development and have announced their cooperation for field tests. These are scheduled for the year 2015.

However, applications for the new materials could be found also outside of the drilling technology.  Drawing dies for wire production for example have been developed, which are to prove their capability as compared to conventional components. Also in this process the team cooperated with industry partners. In order to open up other fields of application, an innovative abrasion test bench was developed at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, which shall be used to test the new materials for their qualification as wear protection. The new device allows to simulate the extreme conditions prevailing in deep boreholes.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Matthias Reich, -2491