How is tribology linked to sustainability?

How is tribology linked to sustainability? The first thing that comes to mind is usually
“lower friction leads to lower energy losses and a higher energy efficiency”.

That is true, but tribology can also contribute to sustainability in so many other ways. In fact, transitions to even the most sustainable new technologies in transportation, electricity generation, etc., requires that these technologies can offer long wear lives and high energy efficiency over long time. Thus, without adequate tribological performance, the technological transitions will be delayed or, in worst case, will never take place. Today, one of tribology's premier tasks is to prevent this type of setback in the combat against climate change.

There are numerous examples where tribology has been a crucial in enabling the introduction of promising sustainable technology. Well-known examples include the introductions of the unleaded gasoline and alcohol-based fuels we use today. In hindsight, these transitions seem obvious and not too adventurous to undertake. But actually, they both required extensive material development and tribological optimization of engine details, etc. before the new fuels systems eventually could compete with traditional fuels (and in some respects, the combat is still not over). History is full similar transitions, where tribology-based obstacles have complicated the way towards adequate performance, acceptance, profit (always a component), and widespread use. Early, qualified efforts towards optimizing tribological performance can reduce the time to market for sustainable technology. And rapid transitions is what we need today.

Tribological optimization can involve maximizing the lifetime of components by promoting the growth of thin surface films on the contacting surfaces. When such tribofilms form and replenish during component use, they may act to minimize wear, or in other systems strongly reduce friction.

Improved wear resistance and extended use phases are most efficient if they are combined with low friction losses and high energy efficiency. Remember the friction losses in the beginning? Low friction losses play an even more important role when stretching out the use phase, transforming the circular economy into an energy efficient long-life elliptic economy.

As described; enabling low friction losses is only one of many roles tribology have in technology for tomorrows sustainable world. Obviously, long lifetimes and high energy efficiency strongly contribute to a sustainable world, but enabling emerging sustainable systems to become competitive and thus accepted and widely used should be the primary task for today’s research in tribology.

A circular economy of materials is good – an extension to a long-life elliptical economy is better. Tribological development facilitates an extended use phase (longer wear life) of components, machines, tools, vehicles, etc. And during this longer use tribology offers lower friction losses and higher energy efficiency.

Last modified: 2023-02-27