Saturday, 7 June 2014

Thanks to a new lubricant, small gears can run with virtually no friction. Made from liquid crystalline fluid, these lubricants drastically reduce friction and wear.

Lubricants are used in motors, axels, ventilators and manufacturing machines. Although lubricants are widely used, there have been almost no fundamental innovations for this product in the last twenty years. Together with a consortium, the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg has developed an entirely new class of substance that could change everything: liquid crystalline lubricant . Its chemical makeup sets it apart; although it is a liquid, the molecules display directional properties like crystals do. When two surfaces move in opposite directions, the liquid crystal molecules between the two surfaces align themselves so that the frictional resistance is extremely low. This enables nearly frictionless sliding.

Liquid crystals are known for its use in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in TV screens, mobile phones or touchscreens. The unusual idea to use them as a lubricant was proposed by Nematel GmbH, which then turned to Fraunhofer IWM to see if it would work. There, Dr. Tobias Amann applied the lubricant made from liquid crystal between two metal workpieces. "Even in the first test, we measured extremely low friction coefficients," remembers Amann.

Match-shaped molecules form a liquid crystalline structure:

The researchers at Fraunhofer IWM discovered that liquid crystal is well suited for lubricants because its molecules are long and thin. "When used as a lubricant between two surfaces that slide past each other, the molecules become aligned in parallel to each other in ordered boundary layers," explains Dr. Andreas Kailer, acting director for the Tribology business unit at Fraunhofer IWM. These layers are very stable but slide easily over each other, keeping friction and wear to a minimum.

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