Lead University: Lehigh University
PI: Brandon Krick

The proposed research focuses on ultralow wear, fluoropolymer-based nanocomposites for low friction, sliding applications. Fluoropolymers are chemically inert and have the lowest friction coefficient of any bulk polymer (as low as 0.05), but have high wear rates. The wear rate of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) can be reduced by four or more orders of magnitude through when composited with organic and inorganic materials through novel processing techniques. This renders them potentially viable for commercial applications where wear resistance, low friction and chemical inertness (in reactive chemical environments) is needed. One major application is in wear components of compressors and pumps in industrial markets. This includes pump wear rings, rod and packing rings, piston rings and other bearings, bushings and seals in markets such as hydrocarbon processing (e.g. oil and gas refinement), water desalination and industrial gas/specialty chemical suppliers. The goal of this project is take PTFE-based composite materials (currently studied in the academic setting at Lehigh) and extend them to applications in industrial pump and compressor components (currently being served by Boulden Company, Inc, a Pennsylvania company). This will require the transition from fundamentally motivated academic studies (which focus on materials in a laboratory setting) to real-world application environments and conditions.

The partnership with the Lehigh University Tribology Laboratory and Boulden Company, Inc. is a natural step to applying a breadth of fundamental knowledge (developed at Lehigh) to industrial applications where they can realize environmental and economical impacts. Research efforts to develop and optimize the next generation polymer composite system for industrial applications will include: exploring material compositional ranges to find optimal mechanical properties, test in a range of environments (temperature, working fluid) to simulate actual application, test in a variety of loading geometries/sliding conditions (contact pressures, speeds, etc.), compare against current state-of-the-art commercial materials and finally assess scale up and commercialization potential.