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Sheffield City Region

Case Study: XeraCarb

Published: June 2012

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Left to right: Dr. Hywel Jones, Sheffield Hallam University, Ashwin Kumaraswamy, Finance Yorkshire Investment Manager, Dr.Anthony Pick,Technical Consultant in Ceramics and Chris Wright,Chairman of XeraCarb

The Company

XeraCarb Ltd, a spin-off from Sheffield Hallam University, has devised a new ceramic composite material that is lightweight but very hard and strong. 

Resulting from advanced materials research at the Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI) at Sheffield Hallam University, XeraCarb is looking at the commercial opportunities of its composite ceramic, which combines the best properties of a number of ceramic systems including silicon carbide, silicon nitride and alumina.

Dr. Anthony Pick, chief technical officer at XeraCarb, devised the composite, along with fellow company founder Dr. Hywel Jones from Sheffield Hallam University.

“I started the development of the product in my garage six years ago,” said Dr Pick, “with the intention of producing lightweight, low mass kiln furniture to reduce the cost of producing porcelain and bone china in order to compete with the Far East.

“By teaming up with the university we have been able to develop a new composite material, which can be manufactured in a range of complex shapes and in large sizes, and, whilst lightweight, retains an impressive hardness and strength.” 

The Challenge

The MoD has taken a particular interest in the technology as plates of the material could form part of the body armour clothing used by UK troops and they have supported the work through their Centre for Defence Enterprise.

Dr Pick added: “Our material is 30 per cent lighter than existing alumina products. That has advantages the MoD recognise and we are keen to develop the product for this and other applications.

“We now need the commercial expertise to exploit these exciting opportunities. We need to measure how effective the material is and explore its potential with customers in the ceramic manufacturing industry.”

The Solution

To support the development of the company, XeraCarb received an investment from Finance Yorkshire’s Seedcorn Fund, together with funding from the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers.

Caroline Soulsby from Lee & Priestley in Leeds and Gareth Saynor at Nabarro LLP in Sheffield worked on the investment deal for Finance Yorkshire.

The Investment Rationale

Ashwin Kumaraswamy, Investment Manager at Finance Yorkshire, added: “XeraCarb has developed a material which shows great promise for its unusual combination of extreme hardness together with being lightweight and having high temperature performance.

“A real bonus for the material is that the team are confident that parts can be made using a low-cost and highly flexible manufacturing technique. We therefore see XeraCarb as an exciting new start-up business which has huge potential for growth.”

Future Expectations

XeraCarb will use the finance to continue product development, explore different uses of the material and set-up the right management team to take it forward. The founders have appointed Chris Wright as XeraCarb Chairman to develop the company further and explore potential business opportunities with porcelain manufacturers and protective clothing companies.

 

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