U.S. Researchers: Graphene Lubricants Offer Superior Corrosion Resistance

As part of the research project, diamond ball bearings are encapsulated in graphene. Image courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory (Lamont, Illinois, USA) are working to replace oil with solid lubricants such as graphene, which they say offers benefits including cheaper production costs, more durability, and superior corrosion resistance.

Graphene can be used to better protect ball bearings, which can corrode over time when exposed to water through tribocorrosion, the researchers explain. Tribocorrosion is a material degradation process due to the combined effect of corrosion and wear.

In their research, the Argonne-developed process based on graphene has shown that applying just a few layers of graphene can lessen the friction in steel rubbing against steel by seven times and the wear by 10,000 times, all while also reducing the tribocorrosion problem. The researchers cite the automobile industry as a potential beneficiary.

“That’s a significant improvement over any other existing solid lubricants coating available today,” says Anirudha Sumant, a researcher at the Center for Nanoscale Materials. Research was conducted using a multifunction tribometer to study friction, wear, and force.

“Also, the amount of graphene needed is very small, and therefore cost is much lower,” Sumant adds. “And eliminating oil waste would be more environmental friendly, which is a great side benefit.”

Sumant and his colleagues’ work has implications both inside and outside the automobile industry. According to the researchers, the process could enable superior movement for wind turbines while also helping to better seal off machinery used to pump oil or gas from the ground or at sea.

The research team explains that much of the cost in conventional solid lubricant coatings is related to the infrastructure needed to apply them, including the electricity needed to run machinery and the related maintenance. That is not the case with graphene, they say, since it can be applied by spraying a solution in the air and can coat any complicated shape or size—and over a large surface area.

Sumant and his team are currently collaborating with two different companies to commercialize the process. The first is a mechanical pump seals company, which is working with the Argonne scientists to replace its silicon carbide seals with graphene to reduce wear and friction.

Meanwhile, the Argonne team also plans to work with another company from the automobile sector, which uses molds to create car parts such as door panels. In that partnership, Argonne researchers are seeking to develop a new lubricant that could reduce friction in metal forming applications, thus lowering costs.

Led by Sumant, the Argonne team recently won two additional DOE grants for the project totaling $1.4 million. Seed money for the research was initially provided by Argonne's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory, www.anl.gov.