Washington : A new research by materials engineers from the University of Leeds has paved the way for 100 pc lead-free electronics.
The work, carried out at the UK's synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source, reveals the potential of a new manmade material to replace lead-based ceramics in countless electronic devices, ranging from inkjet printers and digital cameras to hospital ultrasound scanners and diesel fuel injectors.
European regulations now bar the use of most lead-containing materials in electronic and electrical devices. Ceramic crystals known as 'piezoelectrics' are currently exempt from these regulations but this may change in the future, owing to growing concerns over the disposal of lead-based materials.
Piezoelectric materials generate an electrical field when pressure is applied, and vice-versa. In gas igniters on ovens and fires, for example, piezoelectric crystals produce a high voltage when they are hit with a spring-loaded hammer, generating a spark across a small gap that lights the fuel.
The most common piezoelectric material is a ceramic crystal called lead zirconium titanate, or PZT. Using a high intensity X-ray beam at the Diamond Light Source, the University of Leeds researchers have now shown that a simple, lead-free ceramic could potentially do the same job as PZT.
"With the 'Extreme Conditions' beamline at Diamond we were able to probe the interior of the lead-free ceramic- potassium sodium bismuth titanate (KNBT) to learn more about its piezoelectric properties. We could see the changes in crystal structure actually happening while we applied the electric field," said Tim Comyn, lead investigator on the project."