Editorial Feature

The Role of Tribology in Sustainability

The numerous advancements made in the area of green tribology have significantly improved the environmental impact of various machinery components in almost every industry around the world. As the global interest in developing environmentally friendly technologies continues to rise, green tribology studies will certainly remain a crucial step in ensuring the sustainability of these systems.

Green Tribology

Since the emergence of tribology almost 50 years ago, various different branches of this field have emerged to have meaningful impacts in their respective scientific disciplines. Green tribology, for example, has developed as the science and technology used to investigate the tribological aspects of both environmental and biological systems. The three main principles of green tribology involve minimizing the amount of heat and energy dissipated during the system’s use, minimizing wear production and reducing or completely eliminating the need to incorporate lubricants into the system.

Green Tribology and Friction

In the United States alone it is estimated that up to 33% of the country’s energy consumption is used to overcome friction losses. For example, in passenger vehicles more than 8% of all energy losses are attributed to how these systems overcome the effects of friction and wear. Unfortunately, much of the energy dissipated by the friction generated by these technological systems will ultimately be released into the atmosphere as heat pollution.

Green tribology therefore contributes to sustainable energy practices by making an effort to control and minimize friction production in systems to ultimately prevent unnecessary damage to the environment as a result of heat pollution. By incorporating surface modifications into current energy systems, tribologists are able to optimize the surface topography of mating machine components to achieve improved energy efficiency while simultaneously controlling the friction and wear production of these systems.

Sustainable Tribology and Renewable Energy

As nations around the world are looking to revolutionize their energy industry through the development of clean energy resources, green tribology will continue to play a crucial role in ensuring the efficiency of these energy systems. In fact, the tribological information obtained from studies performed on green technology applications, such as wind-power turbines, tidal turbines or solar panels, can be crucial in determining the energy conservation and conversion rates of these systems.

Wind-power turbines, for example, can succumb to various tribological issues as a result of water contamination, wear on the mainshaft, gearbox bearings and gears, as well as erosion of their blades. Similarly, tidal-power turbines can be damaged by tribological issues as a result of erosion, corrosion and biofouling. The incorporation of tribological studies into the maintenance of these renewable energy systems can therefore play an important role in extending their lifetime.

Biolubricants and Sustainable Tribology

The use of natural, biodegradable and environmentally-friendly resources to replace the traditional, and often harmful, waxes, adhesives and lubricants used in machinery can provide significant improvements on the environmental issues of numerous systems. For example, vegetable oils have shown to exhibit superb lubricity, viscosity index and flash/fire point characteristics that often exceed those of mineral oil. The chemical modification of vegetable oils has been shown to improve their oxidative stability when used for engines, hydraulic applications and metal-cutting applications.

Conclusion

In an ideal world, the sustainability of all energy systems would be achieved by replacing non-sustainable energy sources with renewable ones; however, until this is a realistic endpoint, it is imperative that the overall energy consumption and demand of our current systems are reduced by the incorporation of green tribology into the design and engineering of all machinery, vehicles and other modern industrial systems.

Sources

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.

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