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What Is Boron Carbide?

Boron carbide is a robust material known for its exceptional hardness, ranking third after diamond and cubic boron nitride. Its durability and resistance to wear make it ideal for industrial applications like abrasives and armor. Intrigued by its toughness? Discover how boron carbide stands up to extreme environments and what makes it indispensable in advanced technology.
B. Turner
B. Turner

Boron carbide represents one of the hardest and densest materials on earth. Manufacturers produce this specialty ceramic product by combining carbon molecules with a natural element called boron. These materials can be combined in an electric arc furnace, or using an acid-based chemical reaction, both of which result in a material with four boron molecules and a single carbon molecule. The supreme level of hardness and density of this material make it suitable for a wide variety of highly-specialized applications that can not be achieved with any other material.

One of the most common applications for boron carbide is in the nuclear power industry. Boron carbide is one of the only materials on earth that can safely contain nuclear control rods, and prevent radiation leaks. This material also serves as an effective radiation shield outside of the nuclear industry, such as in a hospital or research setting where large amounts of radioactive energy may be used.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Boron carbide is also widely used in the manufacturing industry to make materials that require the highest level of durability. For example, this material is used to make armor plates for vehicles, as well as highly-effective body armor for soldiers and law enforcement personnel. It's also used on high quality locks and security devices due to its ability to withstand almost any type of tampering or force. Manufacturers use boron carbide to make nozzles and other accessories for blasting equipment, and to coat metal tools and other mechanical parts that are subject to high wear.

Many of the natural properties of boron carbide make it well-suited for the very toughest applications. This black or dark gray powder offers a hardness and density similar to that of a diamond, and also provides supreme wear resistance. It has a high-melting point, and is chemically inert, which prevents unwanted reactions with surrounding materials or compounds. It's also lightweight, and can be hot pressed into molds to form many shapes.

Despite its many advantages, boron carbide is also associated with a number of potential drawbacks in some applications. Temperature variations can lead to a phenomenon known as thermal shock failure, and this material is also more susceptible to oxidation that some other similar materials. The products made from boron carbide are limited only to what can be created using hot press manufacturing, as other production techniques are not well-suited to this material. Finally, boron carbide is extremely expensive, and typically costs five to ten times as much as steel.

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Discussion Comments


I really don't think that is a major problem anymore. I do believe the steel and copper tanks holding nuclear waste in the process would split from thermal shock failure and that cause meltdowns.

It seems they have managed that problem and it never affected the things made of boron carbide, anyway.


One of the properties of boron is thermal shock failure? Wait a minute. Isn't that the kind of things that causes systems in nuclear plants to fail and causes meltdowns? That is a huge problem, isn't it?

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