Y2O3-stabilized tetragonal ZrO2 polycrystal (Y-TZP) has been known to be an excellent structural material with high strength and toughness since the pioneering study by Garvie et al. in 1975. However, Y-TZP is not considered an environmental or biomedical material because it undergoes an inherent tetragonal-to-monoclinic (T → M) phase transformation in humid or aqueous environment, which leads to premature failure, so-called low-temperature degradation (LTD). In this study, we demonstrate for the first time that this fatal shortcoming of Y-TZP can be resolved by controlling the grain boundary nanostructure and chemical composition distribution in Y-TZP. Nanocrystalline Y-TZP doped with Al 3+ and Ge4+ ions exhibits no LTD for more than 4 years in hot water at 140°C, whereas 70% of the tetragonal phase in conventional TZP transforms to the monoclinic phase within only 15 h. This innovative Y-TZP can be fabricated by pressureless sintering at 1200°C; far below the sintering temperature for conventional Y-TZP. The developed TZP ceramics will be useful in numerous environmental-proofing applications, particularly in the biomedical engineering field.
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