September 27, 2007

Created at SIUC's Center for Advanced Friction Studies Carbon nanomaterials may revolutionize clutches

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A material developed by researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale might revolutionize clutches, the devices that engage and disengage moving parts in vehicles and machinery.

The carbon nanomaterials, developed by engineers at the SIUC Center for Advanced Friction Studies, sustain wear from the inherent friction that clutches endure better than traditional materials such as Kevlar, said Peter Filip, director of the center. Nanomaterials are made of ultra-small structures about 1 billionth of a meter in size.

SIUC is working with Tribco Inc., of Cleveland, a high-technology company producing advanced friction products for brakes, clutches and other industrial applications.

The new materials developed at the SIUC contain Kevlar modified with nanoparticles and nanofibers. Filip and SIUC friction researcher Tod Policandriotes, along with two Tribco employees, figured out how to impregnate the Kevlar materials with nanomaterials, testing the new materials both at SIUC and in the Tribco production lines, Filip said.

"My idea was to incorporate different types of nanomaterials into current Tribco product because (nanomaterials) end up on the friction surface and make the friction layer stronger and more adhesive," Filip said.

David N. Bortz, president of Tribco Inc., said the company is working with the University to investigate some new materials' potential in clutches.

"Nanofibers and nanotubes might have some use in friction materials. Whether they make a good friction material that is safe is something we're trying to determine," he said. "The materials have properties that lend themselves for use in friction materials, so there's good reason to hope they will work."

Filip said the materials hold great potential for wear items such as clutches.

"These materials provide a significant improvement in clutch wear, up to 400 percent improvement at elevated temperatures," Filip said. "As the friction is increased, this material actually grabs better, resulting in lower wear with high friction."

The material makes the wear surface more thermally stable and may increase the life of a clutch by five times, Filip said. It could have excellent application in military and heavy vehicles, as well as industrial machines.

Jeff Myers, senior technology transfer specialist in the SIUC Office of Research Development and Administration, said the company paid an up-front fee of $17,500 to the University in return for the rights to the technology. It also agreed to pay the University royalties on future product sales, should it decide to market them.

"This is another success story for the University and shows once again how the research conducted here applies to the real world," said Myers, whose office works on patents and negotiates licensing agreements. Since 2001, the technology transfer program has processed more than 100 invention disclosures, filed 54 patents and licensed 31 inventions from SIUC. It also has assisted four start-up companies based on SIUC research.

Policandriotes conducted much of the development process during the last two years, Filip said. The center's team of industrial advisers funded the research.

Bortz said Tribco also is working with other industry partners to provide SIUC with additional testing equipment for wet friction applications.

"SIUC, with the Center for Advanced Friction Studies, has the best academic testing base in country, maybe the world," Bortz said. "We want to help round that out."