Argonne National Laboratory

Tribology researcher recognized for distinguished career

By Greg CunninghamJune 9, 2015

When it comes to increasing the efficiency of America’s cars and trucks, Argonne researchers leave no stone unturned. This includes Ali Erdemir, who just received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) prestigious Mayo D. Hersey Award.

The laboratory takes an all-angles approach to getting the most bang for America’s energy buck, and one of the key areas of investigation over the past several decades has been the dramatic reduction of friction in an internal combustion engine. The plethora of moving parts present throughout today’s vehicles represent a major opportunity for researchers to not only increase efficiency, but also reduce emissions and extend vehicular life.

Few people are more dedicated to unlocking that efficiency than Argonne’s Ali Erdemir. A staff member since 1987, Erdemir has dedicated nearly his entire career to reducing the friction between moving parts, an effort that recently culminated in his receipt of the Mayo D. Hersey Award “in recognition of distinguished and continued contribution over a substantial period of time to the advancement of lubrication science and engineering.”

Erdemir, a materials scientist by education, and his tribology research group develop lubricants, materials, and coatings, all of which are used in concert to reduce friction and thereby maximize efficiency.

“The efficiency and environmental aspects of this research are central to both the Argonne and Department of Energy’s missions,” said Erdemir.

From frictionless carbon to nanolubricants to large-scale manufacturing, Erdemir has run the research gauntlet in his quest to make things work together more smoothly, delivering numerous “breakthrough” contributions to the fields of tribology, materials science, and surface engineering. Hence the Hersey Award.

Essentially, greatly reducing friction would increase the efficiency of a vehicle by one or two percent, a number that may seem trivial to the unfamiliar. But when that efficiency is applied on a national scale, the number becomes truly significant and greatly impacts America’s energy portfolio, said Erdemir.

The oils and coatings created by Erdemir’s team must act in harmony with the materials with which they interact to be truly effective. “These interactions between the additives in lubricants and the surface of materials are critical,” he said. “We have to look at the surfaces in order to design better lubricants.” These lubricants, in turn, help to reduce friction on nearly all moving parts within an automobile.

But the process doesn’t stop there. Erdemir’s team develops coatings that work in synergy with oils to further push the energy efficiency envelope. “Coatings and oils work together in a lubricated environment for greater efficiency, which leads to fewer emissions and longer life,” he said.

Erdemir’s coating research recently culminated in the publishing “Coating Technology for Vehicle Applications,” a book he co-authored with Sung Chul Cha, a senior research engineer at Hyundai Motor Group. Coatings are becoming an increasingly important field in the materials and tribology arenas, and with Erdemir at the helm, Argonne is poised to lead.

This latest award is one of many for Erdemir, whose career has garnered five R&D 100 Awards, 16 patents, 290 publications, three edited books and 18 invited book chapters. He has also remained active in the larger materials tribology communities via ASME, the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE), the American Vacuum Society (AVS), and American Society of Metals (ASM)-International Fellowships.