Armed with coffee cup and briefcase, you rush out the door, start the car, shift into reverse and back out of the driveway. Soon you're motoring along, reviewing the day's appointments-never realizing what stress you've just inflicted on your car's engine.
"The cost savings for prolonging the use-life for bearings and heavy machinery would be tremendous. Couple that with less maintenance and repair time, and you have a product with a potentially huge impact."
-Professor Ronald Elsenbaumer
Almost all engine wear occurs when the car starts up. From a cold start, it can take several minutes before oil is flowing properly through the engine. In the meantime, friction wears away at the metal parts.
Oil additives provide some protection, but ZDDP (zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate), the standard since the 1930s, poses significant pollution problems. Other additives have touted Teflon as the next great thing but failed to exploit its potential. Now Dallas-based Platinum Research Organization (PRO), assisted by UTA professors Ronald Elsenbaumer and Pranesh Aswath, can barely contain the excitement over a new additive, TechroBOND.
Call it Teflon with a twist.
Developed and patented by PRO petroleum engineer F. Conrad Greer, TechroBOND uses a catalyst to bond the Teflon to metal surfaces. Whereas earlier technologies performed their magic at temperatures topping 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the TechroBOND catalysts work at normal engine temperatures.
The catalyst temporarily bonds with the Teflon, then attaches it to the metal surface. Once the Teflon-metal bond is made, the catalyst detaches and moves on to form another temporary bond with more Teflon, then helps fuse the Teflon with another bit of metal. The researchers say the process repeats itself millions of times a minute, forming a consistent, protective layer of solid lubricant on the engine parts.
The nanoscopic coating cannot be seen, but it is there nonetheless. And the Teflon-metal bond made possible by TechroBOND is believed to be permanent.
"This technology puts the Teflon on the metal, and it stays there even when the oil isn't flowing," explained Dr. Elsenbaumer, who is also chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and director of the Materials Science Program. With TechroBOND, the protective coating is always in place, a distinct advantage in preventing engine wear, particularly at start-up. Eventually, frictional forces between engine parts will wear away portions of the coating, but as soon as bare metal is uncovered, the TechroBOND catalyst bonds more Teflon to the exposed part. "It wears through, but it immediately self-heals," Dr. Elsenbaumer said.
So what's next for TechroBOND, UTA and PRO? First, the two researchers and their graduate student assistants must define the best formulation for commercial application. Then the product will undergo no-harm engine tests before being made available for engines at approved auto dealer oil change outlets, car care companies and quick-lube centers.
The move from concept to commercial product is particularly significant to Dr. Elsenbaumer.
"Our programs in materials science and graduate chemistry are applied programs," he said. "Our students are involved in real-life projects and problems that have real outcomes. This interaction with PRO speaks to our philosophy of developing relationships with private industry to help get our students working on fundamental problems that have a connection to the real world and provide them with the training that helps them become better employees when they leave here. They better understand market forces, teamwork, the power of interdisciplinary interactions and joint company developments, in addition to doing good science.
"If you're going to have any relevance at all in what you do, your students must have this kind of broad training."
Students get invaluable hands-on experience, a substance evolves of potentially great benefit throughout industry, and the planet gets a breather from one source of pollution.
Pretty slick, huh?