Types of Ceramics: Uses & Properties

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In chemistry, ceramics refer to more than simply pottery and plates. In this lesson, we will learn about the different types of ceramics and the uses of these ceramics.

Types of Ceramics

When you first hear 'ceramics' what do you think of? Do you think of ceramic pots or ceramic plates? While this is one type of ceramic, there are several other types of ceramics that range from transformers (for electricity), heating elements, and many other purposes.

Ceramic cups and pottery are not the only uses of ceramics
Ceramic cup

The word 'ceramics' has a very broad definition. In chemistry, ceramics refers to any non-metal, non-organic solid. So, this rules out iron or copper (because those are metal), as well as wood and plastic (because those are organic). This means that ceramics are things such as glass, graphite, diamonds, porcelain, and cement.

We can group ceramics based on how they are used:

  • Structural
  • Refractory
  • Electrical
  • Magnetic
  • Abrasives

Structural Ceramics

When talking about structural ceramics we include bricks, dinner plates, and statues. Most of these are clay based. These are typically pressed or extruded into shape. They have good insulating properties - which changes with the density. The denser the ceramic, the lower the insulating properties.

The density can be changed in the process of transforming the clay into a glass (a non-crystalline amorphous solid). This process is called vitrification. The more glass-like the end product, the higher the density. The ceramics can become glass-like by using finer particle sizes and/or using higher temperatures.

Refractory Ceramics

A refractory is something that can hold its shape and strength even at high temperatures. Thus, refractory ceramics are used in furnaces and kilns. These can hold up against high temperatures and stress. Even with things such as molten metal.

Refractory ceramics can withstand even very high temperatures such as with molten metal
Molten metal in kiln

Refractory ceramics can be made by using oxides. This includes silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and many other oxides. The pure oxides have the highest refractory properties, but they can be very expensive. Thus, they are often mixed with other compounds to decrease the cost.

Electrical Ceramics

Ceramics can either be good conductors or have high resistivity, both have specific purposes. One purpose of using ceramics instead of metal for electrical purposes, is that as the temperature increases the conductivity increases.

Silicon carbide is a ceramic that is used for heating elements. Since the conductivity increases as the heat increases, it can continue to be a good heat conductor even as it is heating up.

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