Nav: Home

Argonne technology wins 2016 TechConnect National Innovation Award

May 26, 2016

Friction is the enemy of efficiency, and since the days of the Egyptian pharaohs, people have sought ways to get rid of it.

The ancient Egyptians used animal fat and olive oil to lubricate the rollers that moved stones and statues for their colossal monuments. Anirudha Sumant, a nanoscientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, and his collaborators are using graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon arrayed in a honeycomb-like lattice, coupled with nanodiamonds.

Although it sounds expensive, graphene-nanodiamonds are cheaper than existing lubricants and a good deal more effective than olive oil. Using miniscule diamonds wrapped in graphene, the group can reduce friction to almost zero value. They call the effect superlubricity, and it is a very enticing prospect for industries making everything from computer hard drives to wind turbines.

On May 22, the new lubrication technology received a TechConnect National Innovation Award at TechConnect's annual World Innovation Conference and Expo, a gathering that allows inventors to present their work to potential funders and commercial partners. The TechConnect Innovation Awards select the top early-stage innovations from around the world through an industry-review process of the top 15% of annually submitted technologies into the TechConnect National Innovation Summit.

"The prize recognizes technology that has shown a state-of-the-art innovation that will have a positive impact on consumers and the environment," said Mostafa Beik, a Business Development Executive in Argonne's Technology Development and Commercialization Division (TDC). Beik and fellow Business Development Executive CJ Guron are working closely with Sumant and his team to develop the commercial possibilities for this technology.

"The story started almost five years back with an informal discussion with my colleague Ali Erdemir from Argonne's Energy Systems Division," Sumant said.

Sumant and Erdemir started their initial investigations on graphene with funding they earned through Argonne's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. Sumant and Erdemir were stunned by the early result.

In order to get further insight into the mechanism of superlubricity, Sumant approached in-house theory expert Subramanian Sankaranarayanan from the theory group at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The team marched forward and published a series of seminal papers, including one that was recently published in Science.

"This is really a team effort, and I am lucky to have such a great team, including talented post-doc fellow Diana Berman, who did the experimental work, and Sanket Deshmukh, who did the theory work," Sumant said.

Friction is produced when two surfaces rub against each other, generating heat and causing a loss of material and dissipation of energy. Industries spend tens of billions of dollars annually on lubricants to mitigate friction effects. The market for new graphene-based lubricants will be a significant niche of that larger market and is projected to reach over $2 billion by 2025, according to Beik.

To reduce friction to nearly zero, the process involves coating one of the surfaces with an amorphous form of carbon. The other surface is just sprinkled with a mixture of graphene and nanodiamonds.

"When the two surfaces slide against each other, the graphene makes a kind of blanket around the nanodiamond, and these nanodiamonds encapsulated in graphene act as nanoscale ball bearings between the two contact surfaces" Sumant said. "If you do it in an atmosphere like dry nitrogen or dry argon gas, you can reduce the friction down to almost zero: superlubricity."

The mixture is extremely long-lasting. Two surfaces can slide almost four kilometers on a single drop before the drop needs replenishing. And the process is inexpensive. Most lubricant coatings in current use must be deposited in a vacuum, requiring costly apparatus and limiting the process to parts that fit into it.

"Our coating is a solution," Sumant said, "so you just spray it in the air. There is no question about the size of the part, the geometry of the part. That's a huge advantage."

The nanodiamond process requires a dry environment, with humidity below 30%. But the group has also developed a graphene-only spray for situations in which dryness is impossible. It doesn't achieve superlubricity, but it reduces friction between two sliding steel surfaces by six times and wear by ten thousand times.

"Compared with any other solid lubricant out there right now in the market, this is the best possible solution, since it works in dry and humid air equally well," Sumant said.

Sumant envisions using the graphene-nanodiamond lubricant in some specialized applications, such as rotating seals or wind turbines where maintaining dry atmosphere could be possible. Once its usefulness is realized, the same concept could be extended to other important systems, such as turbines used for power generators, to tap the enormous potential of increased energy efficiency offered by superlubricity.

There are other intriguing applications of both the nanodiamond and graphene-only technologies. Computer hard disks are lubricated between the disk itself and the magnetic head that sits a few nanometers above it. The atomically thin graphene will not only prevent the disc from corrosion -induced damage, it will also allow the read/write head to fly at nanometer level above the surface, which will greatly help in increasing the storage density of the disk by many folds, Sumant said.

Eventually, the team envisions designing a variety of solid lubricants based on graphene and other 2-D materials that could be used at different environments for specific applications.

"We want to develop a lubricant genome database where one can pick the appropriate lubricant for their application," Sumant said.

Sumant and his collaborators are already working with several companies to develop the superlubricant for industrial use.

"We are working collaboratively so the technology will be available for adoption by others," Beik said.

Graphene has only been around for a decade, and the nanodiamond-graphene technology is still proven at lab-scale, but it is growing fast.

"There is a tremendous potential market opportunity for this technology," Beik said. "This is exciting."
In addition to CNM, this research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The research also used tribological test facilities of Argonne's Energy Systems Division, supported by the Vehicle Technologies Program of DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. An award of computer time was provided by the DOE Office of Science-supported Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program. Finally, researchers used resources of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, also a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

Related Graphene Articles:

New chemical method could revolutionize graphene
University of Illinois at Chicago scientists have discovered a new chemical method that enables graphene to be incorporated into a wide range of applications while maintaining its ultra-fast electronics.
Searching beyond graphene for new wonder materials
Graphene, the two-dimensional, ultra lightweight and super-strong carbon film, has been hailed as a wonder material since its discovery in 2004.
New method of characterizing graphene
Scientists have developed a new method of characterizing graphene's properties without applying disruptive electrical contacts, allowing them to investigate both the resistance and quantum capacitance of graphene and other two-dimensional materials.
Chemically tailored graphene
Graphene is considered as one of the most promising new materials.
Beyond graphene: Advances make reduced graphene oxide electronics feasible
Researchers have developed a technique for converting positively charged (p-type) reduced graphene oxide (rGO) into negatively charged (n-type) rGO, creating a layered material that can be used to develop rGO-based transistors for use in electronic devices.
The Graphene 2017 Conference connects Barcelona with the international graphene-based industry
This prestigious Conference to be held at the Barcelona International Convention Centre (March 28-31) aims to bring together academia and industry to integrate new graphene technologies into practical applications.
Graphene from soybeans
A breakthrough by CSIRO-led scientists has made the world's strongest material more commercially viable, thanks to the humble soybean.
First use of graphene to detect cancer cells
By interfacing brain cells onto graphene, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have shown they can differentiate a single hyperactive cancerous cell from a normal cell, pointing the way to developing a simple, noninvasive tool for early cancer diagnosis.
Development of graphene microwave photodetector
DGIST developed cryogenic microwave photodetector which is able to detect 100,000 times smaller light energy compared to the existing photedetectors.
Adding hydrogen to graphene
IBS researchers report a fundamental study of how graphene is hydrogenated.

Related Graphene Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...