Materials for Extreme Environments
Materials are central to modern technology. The clear technology trends of improved efficiency and environmental sustainability will place increasing demands on materials performance with respect to extremes in stress, strain, temperature, pressure, chemical reactivity, photon or radiation flux, and electric or magnetic fields. For example, in order to boost the efficiency of fossil fuel power plants from the current level of 35% to 60% with supercritical steam requires raising operating temperatures by nearly 50% and essentially doubling the operating pressures. These operating conditions require new materials that can reliably withstand the extreme thermal, pressure and highly corrosive environments for long periods of time without failure.For fission nuclear reactors the effect of irradiation damage must be added to the extreme conditions.
Understanding how these extreme environments affect the physical and chemical processes that occur in the bulk material and at its surface would open the door to employing these conditions to make entirely new classes of materials with greatly enhanced performance for future technologies. At the same time, advances in characterization and computational tools can provide an unprecedented opportunity to elucidate these key mechanisms. This knowledge would ultimately allow atomic and molecular structures to be manipulated in a predicable manner to create new materials that have extraordinary tolerance and can function within an extreme environment without property degradation. Further, it would provide revolutionary capabilities for synthesizing materials with novel structures or, alternatively, to force chemical reactions that normally result in damage to proceed along selected pathways that are either benign or self-repair damage initiation.