A pressureless sintering process was developed for the densification of zirconium diboride ceramics containing 10–30 vol% silicon carbide particles. Initially, boron carbide was evaluated as a sintering aid. However, the formation of a borosilicate glass led to significant coarsening, which inhibited densification. Based on thermodynamic calculations, a combination of carbon and boron carbide was added, which enabled densification (relative density >98%) by solid-state sintering at temperatures as low as 1950°C. Varying the size of the starting silicon carbide particles allowed the final silicon carbide particle morphology to be controlled from equiaxed to whisker-like. The mechanical properties of sintered ceramics were comparable with hot-pressed materials with Vickers hardness of 22 GPa, elastic modulus of 460 GPa, and fracture toughness of ∼4 MPa·m1/2. Flexure strength was ∼460 MPa, which is at the low end of the range reported for similar materials, due to the relatively large size (∼13 μm long) of the silicon carbide inclusions.
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