Graphene layers dramatically reduce wear and friction on sliding steel surfaces

Apr 26, 2013 by Jared Sagoff
Graphene layers dramatically reduce wear and friction on sliding steel surfaces
Graphene's hexagonal structure makes it an excellent lubricant.

( —Sometimes, all it takes is an extremely small amount of material to make a big difference. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have recently discovered that they could substitute one-atom-thick graphene layers for oil-based lubricants on sliding steel surfaces, enabling a dramatic reduction in the amount of wear and friction.

New studies led by Argonne Anirudha Sumant and Ali Erdemir showed that graphene is able to drastically reduce the wear rate and the (COF) of steel. The marked reductions in and wear are attributed to the low shear and highly protective nature of graphene, which also prevented oxidation of the steel surfaces when present at sliding contact interfaces.

Stainless steel ball bearings form an integral part of many moving mechanical machines, ranging from table fans to giant wind turbines.

"Reducing energy and materials losses in these moving mechanical systems due to friction and wear remains one of the greatest engineering challenges of our time," Sumant said.

Current lubricants reduce friction and wear either through the use of environmentally unfriendly additives, or in some cases, solid lubricants such as molybdenum disulfide or boric acid. The oil-based lubricants need to be consistently reapplied, producing additional waste. The cost of applying solid lubricant coatings is rather high and due to finite thickness, they do not last very long and must also be expensively reapplied.

On the other hand, coatings made of graphene flakes are not harmful to the environment and can last a considerable length of time due to the flakes' ability to reorient themselves during initial wear cycles, providing a low COF during sliding.

Sumant and Erdemir estimated that the reduced loss of energy to friction offered by new materials would yield a savings of 2.46 billion kilowatt-hours per year, equivalent to 420,000 barrels of oil.

"Applying or reapplying the graphene coating does not require any additional processing steps other than just sprinkling a small amount of solution on the surface of interest, making this process simple, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly," said Diana Berman, a postdoctoral researcher at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM).

"It is interesting to see how a one-atom-thick material affects the properties at a larger scale," Sumant said. "I believe that has potential as a solid lubricant in the automotive industry and, once fully developed, it could have positive impacts on many mechanical applications that could lead to a tremendous savings of energy."

Sumant is associated with Argonne's CNM, while Erdemir works for Argonne's Energy Systems Division. Funding came from Argonne's Laboratory-Directed Research and Development office.

The team recently published their findings in two consecutive papers in the high impact journal Carbon.

Explore further: Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

More information: D. Berman, A. Erdemir, A.V. Sumant: Few layer graphene to reduce wear and friction on sliding steel surfaces. Carbon, 54, 454-459 (2013)

D. Berman, A. Erdemir, A.V. Sumant: Reduced Wear and Friction Enabled by Graphene Layers on Sliding Steel Surfaces in Dry Nitrogen, Carbon, in press.

Related Stories

Finnish researchers find explanation for sliding friction

May 29, 2012

Friction is a key phenomenon in applied physics, whose origin has been studied for centuries. Until now, it has been understood that mechanical wear-resistance and fluid lubrication affect friction, but the fundamental origin ...

Novel molecules significantly reduce wear

Sep 10, 2012

Machines with sliding and rolling parts are virtually ubiquitous. European funding enabled researchers to develop high-performing coatings and lubricants based on a novel new class of molecules to significantly ...

'Heftier' atoms reduce friction at the nanoscale

Nov 01, 2007

A research team led by a University of Pennsylvania mechanical engineer has discovered that friction between two sliding bodies can be reduced at the molecular, or nanoscale, level by changing the mass of the atoms at the ...

Recommended for you

Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

Apr 17, 2014

A new nano-membrane made out of the 'super material' graphene is extremely light and breathable. Not only can this open the door to a new generation of functional waterproof clothing, but also to ultra-rapid filtration. The ...

Wiring up carbon-based electronics

Apr 17, 2014

Carbon-based nanostructures such as nanotubes, graphene sheets, and nanoribbons are unique building blocks showing versatile nanomechanical and nanoelectronic properties. These materials which are ordered ...

Making 'bucky-balls' in spin-out's sights

Apr 16, 2014

( —A new Oxford spin-out firm is targeting the difficult challenge of manufacturing fullerenes, known as 'bucky-balls' because of their spherical shape, a type of carbon nanomaterial which, like ...

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2013
is this something we can integrate into a car's combustion engine?
3 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2013
Not in the combustion chamber. But anywhere else - sure, why not?
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2013
I have been adding about a tablespoon of buckyballs to my motor oil for over 5 years and have a consistent gas mileage increase of over 5%. There has been no engine damage from it. It doesn't dispurse well if just added to oil initially. It has to run through the engine. I have cut apart a used oil filter and it does not clump up in the filter.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2013
Not in the combustion chamber. But anywhere else - sure, why not?

I'm curious why you believe this could not be used in a combustion chamber? What problems do you foresee?
5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2013

I think that, being carbon, the sheets would tend to burn up and go away with the combustion cycle . As the graphene flakes are applied to a surface by "sprinkling on", the stuff would have to be replaced by removing the head to expose the cylinders.
4 / 5 (4) Apr 26, 2013
ahhhhhhhh This one hurt my head! This "discovery" has been in use for years. Graphite lubricant is available in dry and fluid.
3 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2013
Yea.. Just another example of so-called ""duh" science" presented under overhyped fancy names...
3 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2013
Science writers desperate to justify their paycheck.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2013
You know I really wonder if some of these scientist have ever worked anywhere in the real world. I agree with you - I've been using graphite powder in bearings for at least 40 years now. It works great.

More news stories

'Exotic' material is like a switch when super thin

( —Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance ...

Innovative strategy to facilitate organ repair

A significant breakthrough could revolutionize surgical practice and regenerative medicine. A team led by Ludwik Leibler from the Laboratoire Matière Molle et Chimie (CNRS/ESPCI Paris Tech) and Didier Letourneur ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

( —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...