Argonne National Laboratory

Catalytically Active Nanocomposite Coatings

Technology available for licensing: A self-renewing, exceptionally hard and slick metal coating with excellent wear protection for use in multiple industries.

Challenge: Automotive engines, gear boxes, and wind turbines already operate under harsh conditions. As future equipment designs evolve toward more compact, lighter-weight, and high-power-density analogs, lubricants are expected to provide better friction, wear, and scuffing performance; and longer intervals between oil changes. Although current lubricants include zinc dialkyldithiophosphate (ZDDP) and molybdenum dithiocarbamate (MoDTC) to enhance lubrication and wear properties, these additives interfere with the operation of catalytic converters and other aftertreatment devices, leading to pollution.

Technical advances: Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne) have developed a new breed of catalytically active, hard, and highly slick nanocomposite coatings consisting of metal alloys, including copper, nickel, palladium, and platinum. These metals are catalytically active at the temperatures at which such coatings are used in automotive and wind turbine and other applications, in breaking carbon-carbon bonds in oils and greases, and in depositing a hard carbon layer on top of the nanocomposite layer. The nanocomposite coating also incorporates an exceptionally hard
grain structure made of metal borides, carbides, or nitrides. Structurally, the tribofilm formed during the use of the coatings is similar to diamond-like carbon, which nearly eliminates wear, and provides lower friction than the tribofilms resulting from formulated lubricants containing ZDDP. During use, Argonne’s nanocomposite coatings cause catalytic activity, which cracks long-chain hydrocarbon molecules in the lubricant to form a slick and highly protective (i.e., tolerates high wear and is scuff-resistant), ultra-low-friction carbon film on the coated surface.

Reduction to practice: The nanocomposite coatings are fully developed as a concept and require minimal application-oriented evaluation to apply to a potential product.

Impact and forecast: Catalytically active nanocomposite coatings are especially suitable for automotive and wind turbine applications and:

  • May be used in combination with oils without ZDDP and MoDTC and other SAPS
  • Improve the coefficient of friction between sliding surfaces
  • Improve scuffing performance simply with the base oil; may also be used in wind turbine gear boxes

Availability: The technology is patented by Argonne. Argonne would like to partner with companies for completing the development and application of the technology.