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Tribology - The Study of Friction for Energy Savings and the Environment

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Observation of abnormal lubricating
film shape using the principle of
Newton's rings


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Surface micro-texture passing
through lubricating film


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Apparatus for sliding experiments


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Students conducting chemical
analysis of worn surfaces


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Students discussing experiment results


ABSTRACT:
Tribology is the study of the science and technology related to friction, wear and lubrication. It is one of the most important areas of research for those seeking to conserve the global environment and save energy. A characteristic feature of tribology is that it is an interdisciplinary research area comprising mechanical engineering, chemistry and materials science. We are studying new methods of lubrication and new materials for better performance, lower energy consumption and longer machinery life. We are also taking on the advanced problems of hydrogen tribology that must be solved if we are to produce and use hydrogen as a secondary energy carrier in a future low carbon society.

DETAILED:
Friction is everywhere. Without friction, we would be unable to walk without falling, and no automobile would be able to move without friction between the tires and the road. While these are examples of the necessity of friction, there are also a number of situations where we would be better off with less friction. For instance, we cannot ice-skate if there is too much friction between the blades and the ice, the fuel efficiency of automobiles drops when the friction between parts in the engines is too high, and we cannot use automobile brakes safely if the brake pads wear out too quickly. The knowledge and application of tribological phenomena are vital to machine design, as well as to technological development aimed at conserving the global environment and saving energy.

We study new methods of lubrication and new materials to be used in controlling friction and wear in order to provide better performance, reduce energy consumption and extend the life of machinery in a variety of applications. In order to understand the various phenomena that occur between solid surfaces in sliding and rolling contact, we observe and measure in micrometer and nanometer scales, and we also conduct chemical analysis and measurement of physical properties of surfaces and lubricants. This research area is interdisciplinary, and requires knowledge of mechanical engineering as well as of chemistry and materials. Our recent research projects have studied surface microgeometry and surface texturing in lubrication, elastohydrodynamic lubrication, lubrication and sealing mechanisms for seals, mechanisms of processes leading to seizure, grease lubrication mechanisms, friction, wear and rolling contact fatigue in a hydrogen environment, and the effects of environmental gas in lubrication.

Tribological phenomena change depending on the gas in the environment. For example, the coefficients of metal friction are extremely high in space because there is no air. Hydrogen, carbon dioxide and other gases have properties that are different from air. We need to explore the fundamentals of tribology in hydrogen in order to make machine elements such as bearings, seals and valves work properly in a hydrogen environment. For the first time in the world, we are conducting systematic studies of hydrogen tribology. These studies include the effects of hydrogen and a small amount of trace impurities in hydrogen, and the effects of high-pressure hydrogen gas on friction and wear of metallic, polymeric and elastomeric materials, as well as on rolling contact fatigue. We are also exploring other gases, including carbon dioxide.

Tribology Laboratory, Machine Design and Bionic Systems,
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Kyushu University
Professor Joichi Sugimura
Associate Professor Kazuyuki Yagi
Assistant Professor Hiroyoshi Tanaka
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