Imagine a world where the bicycle chain almost never needs replacing or lubing, and bearings spin smoothly forever? Don't hold your breath, but engineers at the Sandia National Laboratories have developed an alloy of gold and platinum that is claimed to be the world’s most wear-resistant metal, 100 times more durable than high-strength steel with the added bonus of self-lubricating.
Obviously, it takes many years before developments in the lab make it into the real world (we're still waiting for the graphene revolution), but practical applications as far as the humble bicycle is concerned could be those components that eventually wear out, such as ball bearings, chainrings and chains.
That’s because when metals rub against other metals they eventually wear down. Making those components out of very hard metals to resist wear is commonly used. This new platinum-gold alloy is a coating that is said to produce the most wear-resistant metal in the world and could prolong the life of those components massively, as reported by https://phys.org
"Many traditional alloys were developed to increase the strength of a material by reducing grain size," said John Curry, a postdoctoral appointee at Sandia and first author on the paper. "Even still, in the presence of extreme stresses and temperatures, many alloys will coarsen or soften, especially under fatigue. We saw that with our platinum-gold alloy the mechanical and thermal stability is excellent, and we did not see much change to the microstructure over immensely long periods of cyclic stress during sliding."
An unlikely benefit of the new metal alloy is the creation of its own lubricant. “One day, while measuring wear on their platinum-gold, an unexpected black film started forming on top. They recognised it: diamond-like carbon, one of the world's best man-made coatings, slick as graphite and hard as diamond. Their creation was making its own lubricant, and a good one at that.”
It sounds too good to be true. A material that is hard as diamond and creates its own lube. Imagine chains, sprockets, chainrings and bearings made of the stuff? It could massively increase service and lubing intervals.
"We showed there's a fundamental change you can make to some alloys that will impart this tremendous increase in performance over a broad range of real, practical metals," said materials scientist Nic Argibay.
Head over to https://phys.org/news/2018-08-wear-resistant-metal-alloy-world.html if you want to read more about this discovery.
So could a drivetrain that never wears out or needs lubing one day be created? If it does ever reach a bicycle it doesn't take an expert to know it's going to be mega bucks. What do you think?
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.