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Superhard and Slick Coating Paves the Way for the Lubricants of the Future

The new Super Hard and Slick Coating could enable wider use of sustainable bio-based lubricants for machines and engines.

Researchers are racing to develop sustainable lubricants made from plants, but there’s one big stumbling block: friction.  Biobased lubricants that are less effective than petroleum would result in more friction, meaning more wear and tear along with lower fuel efficiency and generally higher emissions.  Enter the new Superhard and Slick Coating, which just won an award from R&D Magazine as one of the top innovations of the year.


The high tech self-lubricating coating can be applied to almost any metal used in engines and machinery.  Compared to uncoated surfaces, in both lab and engine tests Superhard and Slick Coating cut friction by up to 80%, and it virtually eliminated wear and scuffing.  With the focus off of petroleum as a baseline for performance, researchers will have more flexibility to develop new alternative lubricants that are biodegradable, nontoxic and sustainable.

The High Cost of High Friction

Given that we still live in an age of machines, it’s little wonder that an entire field of research is devoted to tribology, the study of interactive moving surfaces also known as friction.  According to Argonne National Laboratory, in the U.S. motor vehicles alone chew up nearly 13 million barrels of oil daily, with energy losses from friction accounting for about 15% of that.  Add in the shipping and railroad sectors, factories, yard equipment, construction equipment, and infrastructure such as sewage treatment plants and waste disposal facilities, and the losses just keep on growing.  But, so does the potential for the energy savings from a significant cut in friction.

What’s New About Superhard and Slick Coating

For years, coatings have been used to enhance metal surfaces in machines and engines, to cut down on friction and increase the efficiency of lubricants.  According to R&D magazine, conventional coatings are based on nitride, carbide, and other diamond based substances.  Superhard and Slick Coating is based mainly on molybdenum (a silvery metal), copper, silver, antimony, and tin.  It was developed by researchers at Argonne and Istanbul Technical University, in conjunction with Galleon International Co. and Hauzer Technocoating of the Netherlands, a leading supplier of coating equipment based on high tech vaporization, evaporation, and vacuum technologies.

The Future of Coatings

By taking the emphasis off petroleum lubricants, new high efficiency coatings can breath new life into the development of crambe and other sustainable, nonfood crops for lubricants.  It also opens the door to improving fuel efficiency by retrofitting, or even retro-coating existing engines and machines.  With the U.S. Department of Transportation looking into highways with built in solar surfaces, it looks like high tech coating has come into its own.

Image: miheco on

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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