Nanodiamonds help create ultra-low friction dry lubricant

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have used nanodiamonds to develop a high-performance dry lubricant with hundreds of applications.


The team created the lubricant by combining nanodiamonds with two-dimensional molybdenum disulphide layers. These layers broke up into molybdenum and sulphur, the latter reacting with the nanodiamonds to create onion-like spheres of carbon. Onion-like carbon consists of several layers of spherical graphite shells that can be used as a dry lubricant. While this was an unexpected development, the new substance was found to have ‘macroscale superlubricity’, displaying a friction 10 times lower than that of some non-stick coatings including fluoropolymers.

“It’s interesting to see that these carbon balls can sustain high contact pressure and, due to their unique nanostructure, can glide easily, creating the superlubricity,” said Ali Erdemir, Argonne Distinguished Fellow and collaborator in the study, which is published in Nature Communications.

According to the team, the new substance could be used to lubricate everything from doorknobs and bike chains to heavy industrial equipment, and could even enable the creation of new types of machinery.

“The material the lubricant is used on is going to last longer, and I don’t have to worry about liquid residue and throwing out oily rags as part of the clean-up process,” said John Harvey, business development executive at Argonne. “We also can use it to make parts that we can’t make today, especially with metal stamping.”

Other potential applications include bearings and mechanical pump seals in dry applications as well as in wind turbines. The technology could also be used in magnetic disc drives in the computer industry.

Argonne, which already has three patents on superlubricity technology, has another patent pending on this breakthrough. According to the lab, it will soon be available for licensing.