German Researchers Seek Superlubricity

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A German research institute said today that it is leading twin projects aimed at achieving superlubricity in vehicles and industrial machinery in order to greatly reduce energy consumption and equipment wear.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS said the Prometheus and Chephren projects are based on deployment of hard and slippery coatings but that participants also plan to develop compatible lubricants based on fatty acids and water.

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Officials also predicted that the projects will develop technologies that will be commercially deployed as early as 2025.

The institute, which is located in Dresden, said the projects have a wide range of commercial and public partners, including Federal Mogul, BMW, Man, Wittenstein SE, VTD Vakuumtechnik and Fuchs Petrolub. Their primary aim is to develop low-friction surfaces using Diamor, an extremely hard carbon-based material that Fraunhofer describes as the hardest diamond-like coating.

Yesterday’s statement said the Prometheus project is working to infuse Diamor with chemicals such as boron and molybdenum – the idea being that these may interact with lubricants to greatly reduce coefficients of friction on equipment surfaces.

The partners hope initially to reduce coefficients of friction in engines by 50% compared to technologies in use today, or to a range of around 0.01 to 0.05. Coefficients in that range are considered ultra-low friction, and officials said they expect such technologies will be employed in automotive engines by 2025.

But they added that they expect to make further improvements that will lower coefficients of friction below 0.01, considered the realm of superlubricity. To do that will require new types of lubricants, according to Volker Weihnacht, carbon coatings division manager at Fraunhofer.

“With today’s lubricants, however, superlubricity in combustion engines is not yet possible,” he said in a news release. ”But we are confident that this will change in the future with particularly environmentally friendly new lubricants based on fatty acids or water.”

Both projects are receiving funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The Prometheus project is focused on solutions for engines that power passenger cars, buses and trucks, as well as natural gas engines. The Chephren project is focused on transmissions and bearings in battery-electric cars and bicycles, as well as drive chains in combine harvesters and many moving components in machine tools.

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