Materials engineering - ceramics

Understanding, modelling and processing of ceramics with respect to the properties and material behaviour and development of novel materials.

We will support world-class materials expertise which underpins sustainable growth aligned to key sectors, such as aerospace, defence and energy (e.g. ceramics for high-temperature and high-pressure applications). This will require the community to establish and nurture interdisciplinary links addressing the microstructure/processing/performance triangle.

Research opportunities in this area will focus on reducing material demand through resource efficiency and reducing lead times to product development through greater understanding of the microstructure/processing/performance triangle, highlighted within EPSRC's Productive and Resilient Nation Outcomes. We will work with the community to establish and nurture links with the manufacturing sector and researchers there. This includes linking to the Manufacturing Technologies research area and focusing on the circular economy and reducing energy demand for material production, and challenges surrounding reuse/recycling of ceramics. Technology transfer and uptake must be ensured while maintaining a healthy research base.

There is a significant opportunity to bring together advances in modelling and experimentation to increase the rate of discovery and development of new materials. Over the Delivery Plan, the community should work towards understanding these challenges and establishing solutions.

In the future, it will be valuable to work more closely with the manufacturing sector, as well as the energy, electronics and healthcare sectors, as the use of technical ceramics becomes more important (e.g. implantable devices, sensors, and both functional and structural ceramics for nuclear fusion reactor systems). Ceramics for high-temperature and high-pressure applications remain strategically important, and ceramic matrix composites have the potential to be disruptive technologies in the aerospace and defence sectors.

Over the course of the Delivery Plan, we aim to:

  • Support the community to connect UK research, through a cross-disciplinary approach, to research in response to the Advanced Materials Strategy, (Evidence source 1) and facilitate links with the Sir Henry Royce Institute. A key challenge is to sustain and develop interdisciplinary relationships, enhancing a portfolio that addresses novel research at the interface between engineering, physical sciences and mathematical sciences
  • Encourage the community to undertake research that links through to other materials-relevant research areas (e.g. Performance and Inspection of Mechanical Structures and Systems, Manufacturing Technologies, Continuum Mechanics, Numerical Analysis, Functional Ceramics and Inorganics, Materials for Energy Applications, Nuclear Fission, Energy Storage, Resource Efficiency, Materials Engineering - Metals and Alloys, and Materials Engineering - Composites)
  • Work alongside key stakeholders to provide the next generation of skilled researchers for both the academic and the industrial sector in the UK, from PhD to early-career level. It is essential that this talent is nurtured and retained in later career stages, ensuring that academic expertise is preserved following the completion of studentships

Funding in this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio reduced over the last Delivery Plan, in line with strategy. This has led to the community identifying with and aligning itself to the key challenges within the discipline. (Evidence source 2) Despite this relative reduction, there has been growth in training, as a result of the 2013 Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) call and an increase in universities' Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) allocations.

Our investments over the last Delivery Plan have enhanced this area's leading contribution to international research, chiefly through increased national partnerships. This has led to the community working collaboratively on a wide range of activities and has significantly improved its global standing - the level of impact achieved is high and the 'people pipeline' has benefited. (Evidence source 2,3) For example, UK academics have taken international leadership positions such as President of the American Ceramics Society, and industry (e.g. Morgan Advanced Materials and Element 6) has moved research back to the UK. (Evidence source 2)

The formation of the Sir Henry Royce Institute and critical innovation drivers such as the High Value Manufacturing Catapult will have a strong influence on the research landscape, so strategic alignment and integration across the landscape will be important. This research area's portfolio is very industrially relevant (evidenced by industry recently moving some ceramics research back to the UK, as noted above), but there is strong international competition (e.g. from Germany, China and the US). (Evidence source 2,3) We recognise this area's contribution to national strategic needs, including industrial strategies for the defence, aerospace, electronics, energy and transport sectors. (Evidence source 4) This area has the potential to be disruptive and transformative in these sectors and is critical to the sustained health of advanced materials research in the UK. (Evidence source 1,2)

EPSRC and government interventions (e.g. Diamond Light Source, the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, SuperSTEM, the National Nuclear User Facility and the National Nuclear Lab) have significantly increased access to world-class facilities across the UK. Future investments (e.g. the Sir Henry Royce Institute) will further increase this.

Multidisciplinary research is substantial in this area, enabling an array of associated challenges to be addressed; over the last Delivery Plan, the trend has been towards collaborative research away from traditional areas. (Evidence source 2) There are strong connections to other research areas (see 'Strategic Focus') and there remains a need to sustain and improve these links.

This area is instrumental in the delivery of two Productive Nation Ambitions, in particular:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

A cross-disciplinary approach to advanced materials research, and greater understanding of the microstructure/processing/performance triangle, will contribute to this.

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

This will benefit from a focus on reducing material demand through resource efficiency, and linking to Manufacturing Technologies to address challenges of recycling/reuse of ceramic materials, joining technologies for multi-materials systems, life-cycle analysis and sustainable approaches to manufacturing.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
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EPSRC support by research area in Materials engineering - ceramics (GoW)
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Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Laura Finney
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444242