Journal of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, 2014, 2, 26-31
Published Online October 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Wilmański, A., Bućko, M.M., Pędzich, Z. and Szczerba, J. (2014) Salt-Assisted SHS Synthesis of Alu-
minium Nitride Powders for Refractory Applications. Journal of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, 2, 26-31.
Salt-Assisted SHS Synthesis of Aluminium
Nitride Powders for Refractory Applications
Alan Wilmański, Mirosław M. Bućko, Zbigniew Pędzich, Jacek Szczerba
AGH University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Materials Science and Ceramics, Krakow, Poland
Received July 2014
Powders of aluminum nitride can be prepared by self-sustain high-temperature synthesis (SHS)
between aluminum and nitrogen but its high exothermic effect causes melting and evaporation of
aluminum and low efficiency of such reaction. A presence of inorganic salt in the starting powder
mixture can decrease a heat evolved in the SHS reaction, hinders melting and coalescence of alu-
minum, and facilitates penetration of nitrogen into interior of a powder bed. Mixtures of alumina
powders with different grain sizes and different amounts of aluminum carbonate were subjected
to the SHS reaction under 0.05, 0.1 or 1 MPa nitrogen. The powders were composed of aluminum
nitride, unreacted aluminum, aluminum oxynitride and in some cases corundum and aluminum
oxycarbonate. The finale effects are strongly dependent on the amount of the salt, a grain size of
aluminum and a nitrogen pressure.
Aluminum Nitride, Self-Sustain High-Temperature Synthesis, Salt Assisted Synthesis, Refractory
1. Introduction
Aluminum nitride, AlN, is a promising ceramic material for functional and structural applications due to its very
high thermal conductivity, low electrical conductivity, high flexural strength of about 400 MPa and a hardness
of about 15 GPa [1]-[3]. Several arguments speak for use sintered polycrystalline AlN materials also as a re-
fractory materials: high thermal stability, good thermal shock resistance, and resistance to molten alkali salts [4].
Aluminium nitride was used as a refractory materials alone [5] [6] or as an ingredient of multicomponent mate-
rials based on aluminum oxide [7] or aluminum oxynitride [8]. Presence of aluminum nitride in a mixture with
aluminum oxynitride or corundum powders allow for their compaction using the hydrolysis reaction of AlN [9].
There are several methods for preparing aluminum nitride powders. The commonly used method is direct
reaction between aluminum powder and nitrogen or ammonia at elevated temperature for several hours [10].
Carbothermal reduction of aluminum oxide at the same atmospheres at 1800˚C can be also used but a product
powders are highly aggregated and contaminated with carbon and aluminum carbide [11]. Aluminum nitride
powders can also be prepared in an electric arc, however, apparatus, control conditions and energy consumption
are considerable obstacle [12].
A. Wilmański et al.
A relatively simple and quick method of aluminum nitride preparation is self-sustain high-temperature syn-
thesis (SHS) [13]. In such a case, reaction between aluminum powder, usually in a form of porous and loos bed,
and nitrogen is initiated. Very high heat of such reaction causes increase of temperature enough to its sustain but
also to melt and partially evaporate of aluminum. These phenomena are the reasons of relatively low efficiency
of the synthesis process. Usually two ways are used to avoid such drawbackdecrease of a nitrogen partial
pressure and dilution of the aluminum bed with aluminum nitride powder.
There are several papers described SHS synthesis of aluminum nitride powders where a small amount of in-
organic substances are added. One of the used additives was ammonium chloride and it was stated that optimum
amount of the salt depended on the aluminum grain size, the bigger aluminum grains the highest salt content
[14]. Similar effects were observed when a small amount, from 0.5 to 1.5 mass%, of ammonium fluoride were
added into a mixture of aluminum and aluminum nitride powders [15]. For both salt used efficiency of SHS
synthesis of aluminum nitride increased.
The described influence of inorganic salts on SHS synthesis of AlN is usually attributed to their reaction with
surface of aluminum grains. Thermal decomposition of ammonium chloride or fluoride lead to formation of very
reactive atomic nitrogen as well as chloride or fluoride anions that react with an aluminum oxide presented on a
surface of metallic grains facilitate its removing. In our opinion, presence of a higher amount of inorganic salt in
the starting powder mixture can also decreases a heat evolved in the SHS reaction, hinders melting and coales-
cence of aluminum, and facilitates penetration of nitrogen into interior of the bed.
The aim of the present work was determination of ammonium carbonate on SHS synthesis of aluminum ni-
tride powders while aluminum powders with different grain sizes and different pressures of nitrogen were ap-
2. Experiment
Two kind of commercial aluminum powder (Benda-Lutz) were used in the preparation. The first one, marked as
Al-7, was composed of rounded but irregular grains with average size of ab. 8 µm. The second powder with ir-
regular and not so rounded grains of about 50 µm was marked as Al-63. Figure 1 shows grain size distributions
of the applied alumina powders.
Figure 1. Grain size distributions of the applied aluminum powders. (a)
Al-7 powder; (b) Al-63 powder.
A. Wilmański et al.
The alumina powders were carefully mixed in a plastic container with ammonium carbonate for 30 min using
a few zirconia grinding balls and small amount of dry isopropanol. The volume fractions of the salt were estab-
lished at 10%, 20%, 30% and 40%. The powder mixtures were dried at the room temperature and placed in a
form of loos, porous bed into container made of graphite foil. The container was thermally isolated with corun-
dum wool and placed into a pressure chamber. The chamber was vacuumed and filled with nitrogen to 0.05, 0.1
or 1 MPa. The reaction was initialized by an electric current flow through the graphite container.
Phase composition of the powders was determined by X-ray diffraction analysis (X’Pert Pro, Panalytical) and
the Rietveld refinement was used to determine quantitative phase content. Morphology of the powders was ob-
served using scanning electron microscopy (Nova NanoSEM 200, FEI).
3. Results and Disscusion
X-ray diffraction analysis reveals that all SHS-derived powders are composed mostly of aluminum nitride and
remains of non-reacted aluminum. In the powders prepared from the mixtures with larger content of the salt a
small amounts of aluminum oxynitride with the spinel structure, γ-alon, corundum and aluminum oxycarbide,
Al2OC, are also present. Figure 2 shows changes of aluminum nitride content in the SHS-derived powders.
In the case of pure aluminum powder, amount of aluminum nitride in the SHS-derived powder did not exceed
45 mas%. The highest amount of AlN was observed in the powder synthesized from the Al-7 powder at 0.05
MPa but increase of the nitrogen pressure did not lead to the monotonic decrease of AlN content. The 10 mas%
addition of the salt led to a significant increase in efficiency of the AlN synthesis reaction except the Al-63
powder reacted under 0.05 MPa.
When the Al-7 powder was used, regardless of the nitrogen pressure, the SHS-derived powders contained
over 80 mass% of aluminum nitride. The effect associated with a further increase of the amount of the salt was
little varied depending on the nitrogen pressure. For the highest nitrogen pressure, 1 MPa, the increase of am-
monium carbonate content in the starting powder mixture led to a small decrease of the amount of AlN in the
powder after SHS reaction. For the other pressures a small increase and then also small decrease of AlN content
can be observed. The smallest amount of AlN contained the powders reacted under the lowest nitrogen pressure.
Figure 2. Aluminum nitride content in the SHS-derived
powders in relation to the ammonium carbonate content.
A. Wilmański et al.
The nature of the presented relations shows that the aluminum grain size also influences efficiency of the
synthesis reaction. In the powders prepared from the alumina powder with the larger grains, Al-63, presence of
the salt lead to an increase of the AlN content when the nitrogen pressure is higher than 0.05 MPa. In this case a
decrease of AlN content was observed. Further increase of ammonium carbonate caused increase of the AlN
content when the nitrogen pressure is low and decrease for the higher one.
Unreacted aluminum, aluminum oxynitride with spinel structure, γ-alon, corundum and aluminum oxycarbide,
Al2OC, were balance phases in the SHS-derived powders when the Al-7 powder was used. Figure 3 shows
changes of the oxide phase contents in relation to the amount of the salt in the starting mixtures. Presence of
aluminum oxide in the SHS-derived powders results of a reaction between aluminum and oxygen, or carbon
oxides resulting from ammonium carbonate decomposition. Based on the previous work it can be assumed that
the aluminum oxynitride is formed in a secondary reaction between aluminum nitride and aluminum oxide [16]:
23 33
This reaction is endothermic and high temperature is required to its occurrence, therefore it can be assumed
that a higher specific surface of the Al-7 powder leads to more intensive course highly exothermic reaction be-
tween aluminum and nitrogen, and consequently to a higher adiabatic temperature. An increase of the ammo-
nium carbonate content and dilution of the aluminum powder causes a decrease of the temperature but also a
higher amount of oxygen in the system intensifies synthesis of γ-alon. Presence of corundum in the SHS-derived
powders prepared under 0.05 MPa with 30 and 40 vol% of the salt corroborates this statement. For the same ni-
trogen pressure and the salt content a partial pressure of carbon oxides was as high as enough to form aluminum
2 Al + COAlOC
SEM observations reveal that morphology of the SHS-derived powders is complex and very diversified. Fig-
ure 4 shows some SEM pictures of the powders prepared from different aluminum powders, under different ni-
trogen pressure, and with different amounts of the salt. The first pictures present a morphology of the powders
Figure 3. Oxide phases content in the SHS-derived powders
in relation to the ammonium carbonate content.
A. Wilmański et al.
(a) (b) (c)
(d) (e) (f)
Figure 4. SEM images of the SHS-derived powders. (a) Al-7, 1 MPa; (b) Al -63, 0.1 MPa; (c) Al-7, 10% salt, 1 MPa;
(d) Al-63, 10% salt, 0.1 MPa; (e) Al-7, 30% salt, 0.05 MPa; (f) Al-63, 30% salt, 0.1 MPa.
prepared without a presence of the salt. Most of the aluminum nitride grains, all phases were detected by EDS
method, have a regular isometric shapes and sizes from 5 to 10 μm. Plate-like or elongate AlN grains, suggest-
ing the VLS (vapor-liquid-solid) or the VS (vapor-solid) mechanism of their formation, indicate a presence of
the gas and/or liquid aluminum during the SHS reaction.
Similar diversity of morphology can be observed in the powders synthesized by SHS method with the addi-
tion of ammonium carbonate. Most of the aluminum nitride particles have regular shapes and sizes up to 10 μm.
High temperature of the synthesis makes these grains form aggregates and agglomerates larger than hundreds of
microns. Plate-like and/or elongated AlN grains are visible indicating a presence of liquid and gaseous alumi-
num. Among elongated crystals of AlN can be recognized both whiskers and forms of larger diameter composed
of a single, hexagonal plates of nanometer sizes. It is possible to find some areas showing a sequential proceed
of reactions. SEM picture of the powder prepared under 0.1 MPa from the mixture of the Al-63 powder and 30
vol% salt reveals aggregate composed of aluminum nitride grains coated of short needle-like crystals of the
same phase. In the case of the powders synthesized in a presence of larger amounts of the salt very large and
poreless aggregates can be observed. On their surfaces individual, smaller particles of AlN are placed probably
due to the secondary reaction of liquid aluminum with nitrogen.
4. Summary
Aluminum nitride can be prepared by direct reaction between aluminum and nitrogen although a high heat of
this reaction required a relatively low nitrogen pressure and/or dilution of aluminum powder with AlN. The pre-
sented results clearly show that a presence of ammonium carbonate in the starting powder mixture for the SHS
synthesis significantly improves efficiency of this reaction. The effects are strongly dependent on the amount of
introduced salt, aluminum powder morphology and a nitrogen pressure. In the case of the bigger aluminum
grains the higher nitrogen pressure the higher optimal amount of ammonium carbonate, which gives over 90
mass% aluminum nitride in the final powder. Prepared powders were characterized by a complex morphology;
besides isometric AlN grains plate-like and elongated particles can be also visible, which indicates a presence of
gaseous and/or liquid phases during the reaction.
A. Wilmański et al.
The work was financially supported by the Polish State National Centre for Research and Development under
Program INNOTECH-K2/IN2/16/181920/NCBR/13.
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