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Researchers Develop New Process To Reduce Friction and Improve Efficiency
May 12, 2017

Supported by the Grand Technion Energy Program, the Carl E. Schustak Energy Research and Development Fund, and the New York Metropolitan Research Fund, a new process for treating metal surfaces that has the potential to improve efficiency in piston engines and other equipment has been developed by a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Significantly reducing friction without the use of special oil additives, the method improves the ability of metal surfaces to bond with oil.

According to Michael Varenberg, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, “About 50 percent of the mechanical energy losses in an internal combustion engine result from piston assembly friction. So if we can reduce the friction, we can save energy and reduce fuel and oil consumption.”

In the study, published in the journal Tribology Letters, researchers from Georgia Tech and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology tested treating the surface of cast iron blocks by blasting it with mixture of copper sulfide and aluminum oxide. The shot peening modified the surface chemically that changed how oil molecules bonded with the metal and led to a superior surface lubricity.

“We want oil molecules to be connected strongly to the surface. Traditionally this connection is created by putting additives in the oil,” Prof. Varenberg explained. “In this specific case, we shot peen the surface with a blend of alumina and copper sulfide particles. Making the surface more active chemically by deforming it allows for replacement reaction to form iron sulfide on top of the iron. And iron sulfides are known for very strong bonds with oil molecules.”

Prof. Varenberg goes on to note that, “The reported result surpasses the performance of the best current commercial oils and is similar to the performance of lubricants formulated with tungsten disulfide-based nanoparticles, but critically, our process does not use any expensive nanostructured media.”

The researchers point out that the method for reducing surface friction is flexible and similar results can be achieved using a variety of processes other than shot peening, such as lapping, honing, burnishing, and laser shock peening, that would make the process even easier to adapt to a range of uses and industries.

“This straightforward, scalable pathway to ultra-low friction opens new horizons for surface engineering, and it could significantly reduce energy losses on an industrial scale,” Prof. Varenberg said. “Moreover, our finding may result in a paradigm shift in the art of lubrication and initiate a whole new direction in surface science and engineering due to the generality of the idea and a broad range of potential applications.”

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