Reporter 435, 26 April 1999
Advances in coating technology which promise to slash pollution from bus and lorry diesel engines are being developed in mechanical engineering. Peter Dearnley is co-ordinating the project, which is providing small and medium-sized companies across Europe with applied research expertise.
The research aims to increase the performance and longevity of metal and carbon components by covering them in a micro-thin layer of ceramic material.
Rings used to seal diesel engine pistons could last up to twice as long if they were fitted with the protective coating, said Dr Dearnley. This will significantly cut the amounts of pollution spewed out by buses and trucks, the bulk of which is currently caused by leaky seals.
The novel technology is also being applied to the giant rolls used in the paper-making industry. Many of the heavy metal drums are now being replaced with lighter - but more easily damaged - carbon fibre. Applying the ceramic coatings makes them more resistant to wear and scratches.
The thin coats of ceramic are applied by bombarding custom-mixed ceramic powders with plasma energy. Careful cleaning and preparation of the target surface helps the coating to stick. To aid binding to carbon-fibre surfaces, the researchers have developed a technique using a nickel-based intermediate layer.
The project is being carried out jointly with the University of Siegen in Germany and is funded by the European Commission.
"Small and medium-sized companies are the principal employer in the European manufacturing sector," said Dr Dearnley.
"And the EC perceives them as being very innovative, for example they take products to the market very quickly.
"However, they often have inadequate research and development resources so we are carrying out applied research on behalf of our industrial partners."
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