SurfTec, a University of Arkansas-affiliated company, recently received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore using its lubricative coating technology as a replacement for journal bearing liners used in high-speed, megawatt, medium voltage electric motors.
Journal bearings are mechanical devices used to reduce friction between moving parts in an engine, and the liner protects the bearings.
Liners now being used by the Energy Department contain traces of lead, so the department is looking for a nontoxic option. SurfTec proposed its polymer coatings as a potential replacement, and it is one of several companies funded by the department to develop its possible solution.
CEO Dr. Samuel Beckford said the Energy Department project differs from SurfTec’s previous work in terms of scale and intensity, because the coating would be used in parts that go into large, powerful motors like those for wind turbines and generators.
“It’s a much more aggressive application in terms of size, speed and contact pressure,” Beckford said. “The coating will need to be upgraded, but we’re confident that we can get there.”
SurfTec’s coatings are less expensive than metallic lining, and successful integration of SufTec’s nanomaterial coating in journal bearings could reduce friction by 10% and increase the life of parts by 40%, Beckford said.
Beckford said he will need to hire two new engineering technicians and one researcher for the two-year project.
Right now, the company has two employees working on a project tied to a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation.
Beckford earned his Ph.D. in micro-electronics and photonics in 2014 and co-founded SurfTec last November with Min Zou, associate professor in the UA mechanical engineering department.
SurfTec is located in the Arkansas Research and Technology Park in Fayetteville.