Hot space research yields colder down-to-Earth benefits
Posted: April 26, 2001

A paper-thin coating of an innovative NASA material used to prevent space vehicles from burning up during planetary reentry may soon be available to protect your house, car and boat from fire.

Protective Ceramic Coating (PCC), invented at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, in the heart of Silicon Valley, repels heat from virtually any surface it covers. This allows it to shield ceramics, wood, steel, plastics and fiberglass from high temperatures. Wessex, Inc., based in Blacksburg, VA, has licensed the coating from Ames and will continue to develop and market the material.

"PCC has a unique property that enables it to radiate thermal energy during exposure to elevated temperatures," said Rex Churchward, the inventor of PCC. "The coating helps the material reject heat from its surface and thus decreases the amount of heat that can be transferred to the underlying insulation."

NASA originally invented PCC as a protective coating for spacecraft heat shields to allow them to withstand the extreme fiery conditions experienced during Earth reentry. The material's ceramic components exhibit the property of high emissivity, which means the material tends to radiate heat. This allows the protective coating to reflect heat away from the surface it covers, thereby increasing the capability of materials to withstand temperature levels far beyond their normal range.

"Wessex has performed extensive research to maximize the product's fitness for use in various applications," said company president John Olver. "We have discovered that 99 percent of the materials in PCC will not burn, therefore, the coating inhibits the spread of flame. It also reduces heat transfer to the underlying material, which prevents combustion."

"PCC can withstand temperatures from -250 degrees Fahrenheit up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit without damage, added Olver. "It is a great material with unlimited potential."

In the future, PCC may serve as heat protection for car and boat engines, as well as various building materials, making these modes of transportation and environments more fire-resistant and safer for the consumer. The PCC product is readily manufactured and easily applied to a variety of surfaces.

"The advantage of the coating is that it can be applied by brush or by spray gun and then air dried," added Churchward. "It is fairly easy to prepare and can be applied to large or small sections of insulations."

This successful transfer of PCC demonstrates how NASA's Commercial Technology Offices perform their mission of maximizing NASA's research efforts. NASA reaches out to the business community in a way that leverages the agency's resources with those of the private sector. The objective is to stimulate job growth and increase the competitiveness of American products in the global marketplace.

"The American taxpayer's investment is paying off when products like PCC are spun out and become commercially viable, meeting a real need in the US marketplace," said Phil Herlth, Ames Commercial Technology Office.