The field of tribology has undergone a dramatic transformation from the use of animal fat to minimize friction between systems prior to the industrial revolution, to its current widespread prominence in a wide range of industries.
To this end, the demand for tribological advancements continues to rise, especially considering the ever-present issues that our society faces each day. Of these issues includes the need to further improve the sustainability of our industrial processes, as well as reduce climate change and the gradual degradation of the environment; both of which tribological solutions attempt to address.
Environmental tribology emerged as a novel solution to address the growing challenges associated with rapid environmental degradation that is currently taking place around the world. Some of the primary ways in which environmental tribology has looked to improve our diminishing environment, as well as address climate change and depletions in global oil reserves has revolved around the development of innovative technologies, as well as green lubricants and materials capable of reducing wear and friction without requiring excessive energy consumption and/or causing any environmental impact in the process.
It is not uncommon for conventional lubricants to contain a wide variety of toxic compounds such as sulfur and phosphorus. When applied to the internal infrastructure of combustion engines, particularly those using diesel fuels, these lubricant additives can burn and play a direct role in increasing the rate of acid rain and pollution production. Furthermore, the utilization of such toxic lubricant additives also increases the risk of harming various wildlife populations, such as when they leak out of construction bulldozers and excavators. Green and biodegradable lubricants therefore significantly reduce the chance that these toxic insults will occur.
From its introduction to the global science community in 2009, green tribology was originally defined as the science and technology of the tribological aspects of ecological balance and of environmental and biological impacts. Since its advent, green tribology applications have primarily focused on controlling the friction and wear of surfaces in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
Green tribology, which combines both green engineering and green chemistry under a larger umbrella, has been broken down into twelve basic principles, each of which play a role in improving the energy conservation, conversion and other important aspects of green applications like wind-power turbines, tidal turbines or solar panels. These principles include:
- Reducing the dissipation of heat and energy.
- Limit wear and its undesirable effects, such as the generation of contamination by debris and particles.
- Minimize or completely eliminating the need for lubricants, especially those that can lead to environmental hazards.
- Investigate the potential of natural lubricants.
- Utilize biodegradable lubricants when available.
- Incorporate sustainable chemistry and green engineering principles during the development of tribological applications.
- Establish biomimetic approaches.
- Investigate surface texturing procedures.
- Examine the possible environmental implications associated with coatings and other surface modification techniques.
- Design degradation techniques for surface, coating and other tribological components.
- Develop real-time monitoring, analysis and control of tribological systems.
- Prioritize sustainable energy applications.
The field of nanotribology emerged following the vast development of production of both nano- and microtechnologies. Nanotribology, which investigates tribological concerns in minute contacts, has been shown to considerably improve the mechanical reliability of various devices, in clean energy storage and generation applications.
- Stachkowiak, G. W. (2017). How tribology has been helping us to advance and to survive. Friction 5(3); 233-247. DOI: 10.1007/s40544-017-0173-7.
- “Battery, Solar and Energy” – Bruker
- Nosonovsky, M., & Bhushan, B. (2010). Green tribology: principles, research areas and challenges. The Royal Society. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0200.