Ultralow friction of steel surfaces using a 1,3-diketone lubricant in the thin film lubrication regime
Ultralow friction (coefficient of friction mu approximate to 0.005) is observed when two steel surfaces are brought into sliding contact in the presence of a particular 1,3-diketone lubricant (1-(4-ethyl phenyl) nonane-1,3-dione). We investigate the friction process of such a system both experimentally and theoretically and show that the superlubricity is caused by a novel, unique mechanism: The formation of iron-1,3-diketonato complexes during frictional contact leads to a self-limiting, tribochemical polishing process while at the same time a self-assembled monolayer of the diketone is formed on the employed steel surfaces. This polishing process reduces the contact pressure and at the same time leads to formation of a boundary lubricant layer. During sliding the system transits from the original boundary lubrication regime toward hydrodynamic lubrication. Conductivity measurements across the friction gap during sliding show that the lubricant layer present in the gap between the two shearing surfaces is a only few 10 nanometers thick, so that the molecules experience under typical sliding conditions shear rates of a few 10(6) s(-1). Simulations show that under such strong shear the molecules become strongly oriented in the friction gap and the effective viscosity in sliding direction is significantly reduced so that the system is in the thin film lubrication regime and superlubricity is observed. The results of the experiments suggest that such diketones are promising lubricants to achieve a decrease of energy loss and frictional damage in steel based mechanical devices.