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Saturday, November 22, 2008

BAM, a ceramic alloy of boron, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium boride slippier than Teflon can same millions in energy costs

Material slicker than Teflon discovered by accident

by Kurt Kleiner, New Scientist, November 21, 2008

A superhard substance that is more slippery than Teflon could protect mechanical parts from wear and tear, and boost energy efficiency by reducing friction.

The "ceramic alloy" is created by combining a metal alloy of boron, aluminium and magnesium (AlMgB14) with titanium boride (TiB2). It is the hardest material after diamond and cubic boron nitride.

BAM, as the material is called, was discovered at the US Department of Energy Ames Laboratory in Iowa in 199, during attempts to develop a substance to generate electricity when heated.

Eternal lubricant

BAM didn't do that, but was found to have other desirable characteristics. "Its hardness was discovered by accident. We had a terrible time cutting it, grinding it, or polishing it," says Alan Russell, a materials scientist at Iowa State University in Ames.

Those chance findings have now developed into a $3-million programme at the Ames Lab to develop the BAM into a kind of eternal lubricant, a coating for moving parts to boost energy efficiency and longevity by reducing friction.

BAM is much slipperier than Teflon, with a coefficient of friction of .02 compared to .05. Lubricated steel has a friction coefficient of 0.16.

One way to exploit this slipperiness is to coat the rotor blades in everyday pumps used in everything from heating systems to aircraft, says Russel. A slick BAM coating of just 2 microns (see image, top right) could reduce friction between the blades and their housing, meaning less power is needed to produce the same pumping power.

Mystery material

Bruce Cook, lead investigator on the Ames Lab project, estimates that merely coating rotors with the material could save US industry alone 330 trillion kilojoules (9 billion kilowatt hours) every year by 2030 - about $179 million a year.

BAM is also potentially attractive as a hard coating for drill bits and other cutting tools. Diamond is commonly used for this, and is harder, but it reacts chemically with steel and so degrades relatively quickly when used to cut the metal.

By contrast, BAM is cheaper and does not degrade when used with steel.

The exact reason for the new material's characteristics is still unclear, Russell told New Scientist. Most superhard materials, such as diamond, have a simple, regular and symmetrical crystalline structure. But BAM is complex, unsymmetrical, and its lattice contains gaps, none of which would be expected in a hard material.

Its slipperiness is also not entirely understood. Although Russell says the best theory is that the boron interacts with oxygen to make tiny amounts of boron oxide on its surface. They would attract water molecules from the air, to make a slippery coating.

"It's almost as if it's a self-lubricating surface. You don't need to add oil or other lubricants. It's inherently slippery," he says.

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Hank Roberts said...

Interesting but possibly bad news. I recall years ago someone pointing out that the only thing protecting most rain forest and jungle is the time it takes to cut plants by hand with machetes -- but that if something like ever-sharp hand tools ever came along the hand work would go much, much faster, and that if enzymes to make alcohol out of easily chopped biomass came available, clearing the wildnerness to make alcohol out of it and farm the bare land would be the result.

This may be that.

Anonymous said...

Hank, thank you for stopping by.

I wrote a rather lengthy reply and it got lost in the ether, unfortunately.

I will try to retype it by tomorrow, so please stop by, again.

Greenpa said...

Oh, Hank, you're such an old worry-wart. (for those not in on it, Hank and I are very old and close friends.)


Sure, that effect is possible- but we the accelerated cutting of forests etc may be in the works anyway, simply by virtue of increased population.

As we all know, no technology has a conscience; only some of us humans do. If they can actually make this into a cheap effective lubrication layer- think of the tons of carbon that will not go into the air. The ceramic looks non-toxic- how energy intensive is the fabrication process? Lots of questions still.

Thanks for the heads up, Hank.

Anonymous said...

Greenpa, thanks to you, too, for passing by.

As you may know, I have spent the last 11 years in Brazil.

I will give you guys a bit of an on-the-ground perspective, tomorrow.

It ain't pretty.

Anonymous said...

OK, guys, here is my take on the problem of the deforestation of the Amazon.

All educated Brazilians are concerned about the deforestation and they refer to the Amazon as "the lungs of the world," and they know how important it is.

OK, what I am going to write might make some Brazilians angry because they absolutely hate it when they think a gringo (or, gringa, in my case) is criticising Brazil. But, I am not criticising, I am only stating the facts, unexaggerated, although gringos may find them hard to believe.

Here in Brazil, political corruption, at all levels of government, is so extensive that it must be impossible for any American who has not lived here to understand the breath and depth of it. Of the senators in Brasília, only 4 are known to be honest. There were 5, but one passed away this year.

OK, I am not exaggerating when I state that senators and congressmen spend about 90% of their time on administering their current illegal schemes to abscond with public monies and in thinking up new ones. We are not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars per person -- we are talking about hundreds of millions. These large schemes take a lot of time and effort. If the elected officials spend even 10% of their time worrying about helping Brazil, it would be a miracle. At most, they would divert some funds to projects in their districts. The rest is for them and to further their power. They are almost completely immune to prosecution, and although a few of them have been convicted, not one of them has gone to jail in over 40 years. They continue to pass laws that enhance their immunity.

[I personally helped to translate an official report written by an assistant to the attorney general of Brazil concerning transfers between European bank accounts of $400,000,000 at a time, stolen by a Brazilian mayor, so I do know whereof I speak.]

Look, the average, educated Brazilian is convinced that the government will do nothing to stop the deforestation of the Amazon. First, you have to know that all of the government officials in that region are on the take -- senators, governors, local congressmen, mayors, etc.

No Brazilian is going to complain because they would just get killed.

This idea of giving money to local small land owners is ridiculous given that the money will be taken by the organization in charge of distributing it, and then it will be stolen, or even if some of it reaches the small land owners, they will end up with their trees cut down, anyway.

That is how these things work here.

There is no political will to stop the deforestation, even though it will mean that the rains will not come to southern Brazil, either.

I got invited to a free lunch of Russian food, so I am outta here.

Sorry to be so pessimistic, but that is the reality of things here in Brazil.

Please feel free to stop by anytime.

p.s. Petrobras paid Patrick Michaels to come down here and give his bogus anti-global warming lectures. I was too ill at the time or I would have written in to Veja magazine (kinda like Time) to complain about the fact that they gave him the most prominent spot (the three yellow pages in the front) in their issue for his interview wherein he repeated all of the paid-denialist garbage.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have an idea -- pay each of the senators a million dollars to vote for the protection of the Amazon and guarantee them another 10 million each if they actually accomplish it -- that might actually get something done -- although that is pretty much chump change for them.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, better make that 10 million dollars up front for each of them (because, remember, they have scads of people to pay off, too), and 100 million each if it gets accomplished.

I am quite serious.

Ask any Brazilian you know if I am exaggerating or not. Ask one who has only recently left Brazil, because the prices of senators have become greatly inflated in the past 2 years.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way -- that Brazilian mayor actually stole billions, and the prosecutors had all the evidence. He has not gone to trial and recently won the most recent election as a federal congressman, I think.

Lives are cheap, here. With that kind of money, anybody can be bought off or done away with.

Greenpa said...

Tenney- I'm sorry to say that nothing you outline there comes as a surprise to me. It is indeed, grim.

How about spending that $100M to train and fully arm the aboriginal peoples for guerrilla warfare?

That may be the only way to get their attention; and that's not a nice possibility, either.

Anonymous said...

Greenpa, you are a radical! If we cannot train enough people to get rid of FARC, how would we train enough Indians -- and there are not all that many left, anymore?

Only the young can make a big enough noise to influence things, but they are not ready and certainly are not making any noise.