June 27, 2011


Ever hear of “TRIBOLOGY”?   Well, not only do we have tribology, we have green tribology.  Tribology is from the Greek word tribo—τρίβω.  The word tribo means “to rub” and is defined by the Oxford dictionary as the ‘branch of science and technology concerned with interacting surfaces in relative motion and with associated matters (as friction, wear, lubrication and the design of bearings)’.  The term was introduced for the first time in 1966 by Professor H. Peter Jost of the United Kingdom.  The word may be new but the study of the ways and means to reduce friction and wear is at least as old as the Egyptians.   The invention of the wheel probably resulted from some “caveman dude” telling his wife there had to be a better way.  (He probably was moving furniture from one cave to another.)

According to some estimates, losses resulting from ignorance of tribology amounts to about 6% of the gross national product in the United States alone.  This figure is around $200 billion dollars annually.  It has been estimated that approximately one-third of the world’s energy resources in present use appear as friction in one form or another.  According to Dr. Jost, the United States could save approximately $16 billion per year by incorporating better tribological practices.  Now let’s face facts, friction can be a good thing; i.e. car tires on pavement, rubber-soled shoes applied to ice and snow, etc etc.  You get the picture but, as far as moving members in the mechanical world, friction and wear represent properties that literally destroy mechanisms over time and without maintenance and the replacement of parts.

To mitigate friction and wear, we use various lubricants, the very first of which was animal fat.  Over the centuries engineers and chemists have become much more ingenious, resulting in a huge verity of lubrication formulas and methods of application.   Lubricants do their job so why not investigate making those lubricants less harmful to our environment—thus “green tribology”.

“Green tribology” has been defined as ‘the science and technology of the tribological aspects of ecological balance and of environmental and biological impacts’.    It is basically involved with minimizing the following:

1.)    Generation of pollution while using lubricants and lubrication techniques.

2.)    Risk to human health and the environment while using lubrication to reduce wear and friction.

In accomplishing the two goals as given above, there are twelve (12) principals that may be applied.  These are:

  • Minimize heat and energy dissipation
  • Minimize wear
  • Reduce or completely eliminate lubrication and self-lubrication
  • Use natural lubrication if at all possible
  • Use biodegradable lubrication when and if possible
  • Use sustainable chemistry and green engineering principals
  • Use biometric principals of engineering whenever possible
  • Surface texturing should be applied to control surface properties.  Conventional engineered surfaces have random roughness that makes it difficult to control friction and wear.
  • Recognize environmental implication of coatings
  • Design for the degradation of surfaces
  • Apply real-time monitoring when hazardous substances are in use
  • Apply sustainable energy methodology at all times.

These twelve principals, when applied, can greatly reduce the environmental impact lubricants can have when needed for any specific application. 

I would invite you to explore, as I am doing this summer, the “world of tribology” and specifically green tribology.  I think you will come away with a new appreciation for the approaches now being used by engineering teams over the world to better understand and compensate for, friction, wear and lubrication.

Many thanks,

Bob J.


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