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boron carbide ceramics are a class of hard, brittle materials which can be produced by various methods. The most common method of creating pure B4C ceramics is hot pressing sintering. The sintering process of boron carbide requires the use of a high amount of pressure and low oxygen content in the sintering atmosphere in order to achieve dense sintering. To obtain such conditions it is necessary to use sintering additives.
The addition of a small amount of silicon (Si) improves the fracture toughness of boron carbide ceramics. The Si-enriched boron carbide is made by the reduction of boron trioxide with carbon using an electric furnace. This material is a black powder and has a microhardness that ranks second only to diamond and cubic boron nitride. It has a good grindability, good acid-base resistance and excellent thermal stability. It can withstand air corrosion up to 1000 °C.
This ceramic material is used in a wide range of industries as it has many advantages such as its extremely high hardness (second only to diamond and cubic boron nitrocarbide), good mechanical properties, low specific weight, resistance to chemical agents and excellent neutron absorption cross section (10BxC, x>4) that makes it suitable for use as control rods in nuclear reactors.
Despite its excellent ballistic performance, the shear strength of boron carbide ceramics decreases dramatically when the shock load exceeds the Hardness Envelope Limit (HEL). This phenomenon seems to be caused by shear localisation in the crystalline structure during impact loading.