Editorial Feature

Understanding Green Tribology

The study of tribology combines both the studies of science and technology to understand how surfaces interact in a relative motion and how these interactions can cause a variety of subsequent effects to the materials involved. These surface interactions can often result in friction, wear and corrosion to the materials, all of which can cost companies and governments large amounts of money each year to repair. As the rise of new technologies and experimental techniques have lead to more specific characterizations within the field of tribology, green tribology has also recently been introduced as an emerging aspect of this important field.

The Transition to Green Tribology

The term “green tribology” has been defined as a branch within tribology that is specifically tuned to maintaining an ecological balance of the potential environmental and biological impacts of the various surface interactions that can occur between materials. Green tribology plays a major role in ensuring that any friction and wear between materials occurs in a completely environmentally friendly way. Additionally, controlling the tribological aspects of green technologies including wind-power turbines, solar panels or tidal turbines is a primary focus point of researchers and engineers in the green tribology field. Researchers expect that as technologies continue to focus on being more environmentally friendly and sustainable in the future, there will also be a subsequent rise in how green tribology plays a crucial role in these advances.

Green Tribology vs. Green Engineering and Green Chemistry

Green tribology, green engineering and green chemistry have their similarities in reducing the impact of various aspects of an industry to produce pollution or pose a risk to the environment or human health. While this is true, green engineering is more concerned with developing the specific design to which products will prevent pollution production, whereas green chemistry plays a role in designing any chemical products or processes that successfully reduce or eliminate the use and/or reduction of potentially toxic substances. The interdisciplinary nature of green tribology often integrates aspects of chemical engineering and materials science to fully understand both the chemistry and mechanics of surfaces.    

Basic Principles of Green Tribology

The three main aspects of green tribology that ensure its limited impact onto the environment and human health include biomimetic and self-lubricating materials and surfaces, biodegradable and environmentally-friendly lubrications, as well as the tribology of renewable and/or sustainable sources of energy.

  1. Friction Minimization: Friction, which is a primary source of energy dissipation, requires a significant amount of energy consumption to overcome this deleterious surface reaction.
  2. Wear Minimization: Wear is an undesirable property that affects almost every industrial application, and its potential to cause complete failure of the system can be a hazard to both the environment and humans.
  3. Reduction/Elimination of Lubrication: While the lubrication of systems can prevent wear and friction from occurring, the potential environmental health hazards associated with its use can have serious potential effects.
  4. Natural Lubrication: Alternative lubrications that are mainly biodegradable vegetable-based when systems require lubrication.
  5. Sustainable Green Engineering and Chemistry Principles: These concepts should be incorporated into developing green tribology applications, coatings and lubricants.
  6. Real-time Monitoring of Tribology Systems: Ensuring the prevention of hazardous substances through analysis and proper control of the operation of tribology systems and applications.

Conclusion

While green tribology is a fairly new area in both the fields of science and technology, it plays an important role in ensuring that all industrial systems function in an environmentally friendly way. Researchers are currently trying to find ways in which they can integrate each aspect of green tribology, which they believe will allow for the development of systems that are completely sustainable in both engineered design and energy production.

References:

  1. “Green tribology: principles, research areas and challenges” M. Nosonovskyand B. Bhushan. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (2010). DOI: 20.2098/rsta.2010.0200.

Photo credit: Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

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