Enhanced apparent process kinetics due to microwave processing have been claimed for a range of materials, most notably ceramic sintering and polymer curing. However, in most cases, insufficient care was taken in temperature control and measurement and in measurement of critical process variables and material physical properties. A series of careful experiments with an internal calibration of the temperature is needed to eliminate the doubts that remain about the microwave enhancement effects.

Further investigation is needed to develop maps of the regimes of microwave-power absorption characteristics, batch size, heating rate, and other variables where microwave processing can be reproducible and uniform. This would allow processors to make informed decisions concerning microwave applications and process and equipment selection, while avoiding inefficient heating, uneven heating, and thermal runaway problems that have plagued earlier attempts.

Specific processes that show promise for future development include:

  • ceramic processes including drying, chemical vapor infiltration, reaction bonding of silicon nitride, powder synthesis, and joining;

  • polymeric composite pultrusion, ultradrawing of polymeric fibers, and adhesive bonding with intrinsically conducting organic polymers;

  • chemical processes, including custom organic synthesis, hazardous materials processing, solvent extraction, and drying; and

  • industrial waste processing, including treatment or remediation of process wastes, detoxification or consolidation of stored waste, and cleanup of storage or disposal sites.

In general, the elements required for successful application of microwave processing to industrial materials include selection of materials amenable to microwave processing; an understanding of the process requirements; an understanding of the process economics; characterization of material thermochemical properties; selection of equipment and design of applicators suitable for the application; an understanding of how the parts to be processed will interact with the microwave field; and adequate measurement and control of process variables such as incident power, part temperature, and field strength.

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