Synthesis and Processing of Nanocrystalline Zirconium Carbide Formed by Carbothermal Reduction
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Zirconium carbide (ZrC) powders were produced by carbothermal reduction reactions using fine-scale carbon/metal oxide mixtures as the starting materials. The reactant mixtures were prepared by pyrolytic decomposition of solution-derived precursors. The latter precursors were synthesized via hydrolysis/condensation of metal-organic compounds. The first step in the solution process involved refluxing zirconium alkoxide with 2,4 pentanedione ("acacH") in order to partially or fully convert the zirconium alkoxy groups to a chelated zirconium diketonate structure ("zirconium acac"). This was followed by the addition of water (under acidic conditions) in order to promote hydrolysis/condensation reactions. Precursors with variable carbon/metal ratios were produced by varying the concentrations of the solution reactants (i.e., the zirconium alkoxide, "acacH," water, and acid concentrations.) It was necessary to add a secondary soluble carbon source (i.e., phenolic resin or glycerol) during solution processing in order to obtain a C/Zr molar ratio close to 3 (as required for stoichiometry) in the pyrolyzed powders. The phase development during carbothermal reduction was investigated for oxide-rich carbon-deficient and slightly carbon-rich compositions. The reaction was substantially completed after heat treatments in the range of ~1400-1500oC. The crystallite sizes were in the range of ~100-130 nm. However, some oxygen dissolved in the lattice and some free carbon was present. Heat treatment at temperatures >1600oC was required to complete the reaction. The dry-pressed powder compacts, with varying C/Zr molar ratios, were pressureless sintered to relative densities in the range of ~98-100% at 1950oC.