Nat Commun. 2022 Aug 26;13(1):5027. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-32622-4.
High-surface-area α-Al2O3 nanoparticles are used in high-strength ceramics and stable catalyst supports. The production of α-Al2O3 by phase transformation from γ-Al2O3 is hampered by a high activation energy barrier, which usually requires extended high-temperature annealing (~1500 K, > 10 h) and suffers from aggregation. Here, we report the synthesis of dehydrated α-Al2O3 nanoparticles (phase purity ~100%, particle size ~23 nm, surface area ~65 m2 g-1) by a pulsed direct current Joule heating of γ-Al2O3. The phase transformation is completed at a reduced bulk temperature and duration (~573 K, < 1 s) via an intermediate δ’-Al2O3 phase. Numerical simulations reveal the resistive hotspot-induced local heating in the pulsed current process enables the rapid transformation. Theoretical calculations show the topotactic transition (from γ- to δ’- to α-Al2O3) is driven by their surface energy differences. The α-Al2O3 nanoparticles are sintered to nanograined ceramics with hardness superior to commercial alumina and approaching that of sapphire.