Newswise — FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Department of Energy has awarded $1.2 million to SurfTec LLC, a company affiliated with the U of A Technology Development Foundation, to continue developing a nanoparticle-based coating to replace lead-based journal bearings in the next generation of electric machines.

SurfTec is located at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park and was founded by CEO Samuel Beckford and Min Zou, professor of mechanical engineering. Beckford, while a graduate student at the U of A, and Zou discovered a novel approach that significantly improved wear resistance of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coatings, which are applied to the surfaces of tools and cooking wear to reduce friction and adhesion.

For the past six years, researchers in Zou’s laboratory and, more recently, at SurfTec, have refined and tested a solid lubricant coating – a thinner and more durable PTFE – to reduce friction and wear in manufacturing equipment. Beckford said testing has demonstrated that SurfTec’s coating compares favorably to standard solid lubricant coatings used by industry.

Journal bearings are mechanical devices meant to reduce friction between the surfaces of moving parts in machine components. The U.S. Department of Energy is specifically interested in new products that can reduce friction in high-speed, medium-voltage electric motors and generator systems. Beckford said that about half of all electric motor problems and breakdowns are due to bearing failures. Also, to improve reliability and reduce negative environmental impact of lead-based bearing materials, industry and research groups have concentrated on developing new lead-free bearing materials.

“The use of low-friction polymer coatings on the surface of bearings is an attractive option to reduce friction and wear during start/stop or transient operation,” Beckford said. “Our coating could potentially address this problem, while also reducing costs, complexity and oil consumption.”

Successful integration of SufTec’s nanomaterial coating in journal bearings could reduce friction by 10 percent and increase the life of parts by 40 percent, Beckford said. If achieved, these outcomes would meet the Department of Energy’s goal of using lead-free bearings and reducing energy losses in high speed, megawatt class, electric motors and generator systems.