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Technology

Researchers develop supercheap manufacturing method

TOKYO -- A Kyushu University research team has developed a method of producing high-quality silica glass in complex shapes at less than one-hundredth the cost of the stuff made by conventional processes.

A cast and dried mixture of silica powder and a synthetic resin, left, is transformed into a silica glass object, right, by using heat.   © Courtesy of Kyushu University

     The silica glass is suitable for use in high-performance optical components such as upscale lenses.

     The new technology consists of mixing silica powder of about 10 nanometers in particle diameter with a water-soluble synthetic resin, then casting and drying the liquid mixture and heating the cast at 1,100 C to 1,200 C for tens of minutes. The resin decomposes and dissipates during heating.

     Conventional production processes for silica glass parts involve cutting them from a large piece of the material or casting them after melting the material at temperatures of over 2,000 C.

     Silica glass is the purest glass. It consists solely of silicon dioxide and maintains its shape even at temperatures above 1,000 C. It is also resistant to chemicals. As such, it is also made into reaction vessels used in chemical experiments.

     However, making complex shapes out of silica glass can cost up to several hundred thousand yen, a factor restricting its use in many cases. The researchers expect the new process will allow for lenses that now cost 50,000 yen ($425) to be sold for 500 yen.

     In addition to its ability to produce low-cost optical components for use in high-performance telescopes and medical devices, the new method can also be used in to manufacture semiconductors, according to the team, led by professor Shigeru Fujino. The researchers are also considering other applications, such as its use as cover glass for ultraviolet disinfection units.

     Researchers expect silica glass to become used more widely in medical and industrial fields. They hope to collaborate with companies to commercialize the new technology within three years.

(Nikkei)

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