Sol Gel Processing of Ceramics and Glass

Published - Jul 2002| Analyst - Laurel Sheppard| Code - AVM016D
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Report Highlights


  • The global market for sol-gel products in 2001 was $712 million. This is forecasted to increase to $936 million by 2006 at an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 5.6%.
  • The U.S. market share is nearly 28% and is expected to increase to 34% by 2006, rising from $202.5 million to $320 million at an AAGR of 9.6%.
  • Electronic and optical applications are expected to be the fastest growing market segments during the period, at an annual average growth rate of around 14%. High growth rates also are expected for chemical and biomedical applications at between 8% and approximately 10% per year.
  • By 2006, new market segments to emerge will include biomedical applications (such as bone grafting materials and drug therapy products) and chemical applications (gas separation membranes).
  • Although the U.S. leads in research and development, Japan is able to commercialize and market products faster. The total number of U.S. patents also has declined, with fewer applications being commercialized



This BCC report has been prepared in an effort to update information on the status and markets for sol-gel technology discussed in the previous report published in 1999. Since that report, the changes occurring in the industries that use such sol gel-derived applications have continued. For instance, the defense industry has undergone more downsizing, which has had a significant impact on government funding for advanced materials, especially ceramics. This remains true even post September 11, particularly in areas of interest to sol-gel producers. Research interests have also switched from structural to functional applications, specifically electronics. Several consumer applications are being pursued as well.

The advanced ceramics industry continues to undergo restructuring, with mergers, acquisitions, and takeovers by foreign companies. Despite these trends, interest in sol-gel processing has remained strong, with a continued increase in published papers, conferences, and patents. There is even now a web site devoted to this topic. Because new developments have continued and some products did not reach the market, an updated analysis of the technology and markets was again needed.

This report has been prepared with the following objectives:

  • To provide an overview of the various commercial products made with the sol-gel process and their applications.
  • To identify the technological and issues related to the development and commercial production of sol gel-derived products.
  • To analyze the domestic and foreign competition among companies involved with sol-gel products and competing products.
  • To determine the current size and future growth of the total U.S. and worldwide markets for sol-gel products and applications.
  • To identify and profile all U.S. organizations involved in the development and commercialization of sol gel-derived products.
  • To identify the foreign companies, universities, and other institutions involved in the development and commercialization of sol gel-derived products.


The term sol gel was first coined in the late 1800s. It generally refers to a low-temperature method using chemical precursors that can produce ceramics and glasses with better purity and homogeneity than high temperature conventional processes. This process has been used to produce a wide range of compositions (mostly oxides) in various forms, including powders, fibers, coatings and thin films, monoliths and composites, and porous membranes. Organic/inorganic hybrids, where a gel (usually silica) is impregnated with polymers or organic dyes to provide specific properties, can also be made. One of the most attractive features of the sol-gel process is that it can produce compositions that cannot be created with conventional methods. Another benefit is that the mixing level of the solution is retained in the final product, often on the molecular scale.

The applications for sol gel-derived products are numerous. One of the largest application areas is for coatings and thin films used in electronic, optical, and electro-optic components and devices, such as substrates, capacitors, memory devices, infrared (IR) detectors, and waveguides. Antireflection coatings are also used for automotive and architectural applications. Protective and decorative coatings have been developed as well for glass, metal and other types of substrates.

Powders of single- and multicomponent compositions can be made with submicron particle size for structural, electronic, dental, and biomedical applications. Composite powders have been patented for use as agrochemicals or herbicides. Fibers can also be spun or drawn from precursor solutions or coated with thin films. Both optical and refractory fibers are used for fiber optic sensors and thermal insulation, respectively. In addition, sol gel can be used to infiltrate fiber preforms to make composites. Abrasives, used in a variety of finishing processes, are made using a sol-gel type process.

Glass monoliths/coatings and inorganic/organic hybrids are under development for a variety of optical applications, including optical filters, chemical sensors, passive and nonlinear active waveguides, and lasers. Membranes for separation and filtration processes have been developed, as well as catalysts. More recently, biotechnology applications have been extensively studied, where biomolecules (such as proteins, enzymes, antibodies, etc.) are incorporated into sol-gel matrices. Applications include biochemical processes monitoring, environmental testing, food processing, and drug delivery for medicine or agriculture. Other biomedical applications include coatings for metal implants and bone grafting materials. Cosmetic applications include sunscreen lotions and makeup that incorporate UV absorbers.

A previous BCC report, published in 1999, discussed potential markets and applications. Many of these remain the same while some have reached or are near commercialization. Therefore an update was determined necessary due to the new developments that have been introduced over the last few years and the changes in market conditions. Several companies have expanded their research or product lines, while others have discontinued their sol-gel related research. Several new start-ups also have been established.


BCC's technical/economic study covers technical and industry overviews, current and emerging products and applications, new developments, and development issues, and extensive market analysis, including foreign competition. The total market for the U.S. and global markets has been estimated for 2001 and 2006.

This report is directed to producers and users of materials and applications related to sol-gel processing. These include:

  • companies involved in the development, manufacturing, and supplying of advanced materials
  • developers and producers of ceramic powders for electronic and structural applications
  • companies involved in the development and manufacture of structural ceramic components, including composites
  • developers and producers of ceramic and glass fibers
  • producers and suppliers of advanced electronic and optical components and devices
  • producers and suppliers of sensors and sensing devices.
  • advanced material companies interested in diversification
  • producers and suppliers of glass and glass components
  • chemical companies supplying alkoxides and other precursor materials
  • venture capital companies and financial institutions interested in new investments


The report provides a detailed technology overview for sol gel-derived products, including processing methods, properties, and applications. New developments in the U.S. and outside the U.S. have been included. Detailed patent analyses have been carried out for each application. Finally, market analyses have been provided for each application segment for the U.S.


The conclusions of this report are based on information derived from interviews with experts in the field, including those in industry and academia. Extensive literature, Internet, and patent searches were conducted to obtain an overall assessment of the technology. Other information was obtained from trade publications, technical journals, the Department of Commerce, and trade associations. Approximately 100 companies, universities, and other institutions were contacted for this study.

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