Seeking Sustainable Lubricants

Graduate student John Bomidi pursues green solutions through tribology

Surpassing geographical boundaries while uniting the world's citizens, the quest for a "green" society appears to be making substantial strides. This is particularly true within the School of Mechanical Engineering, which boasts talented scholars like John Bomidi from Visakhapatnam, located on South India's east coast.

Bomidi explored several graduate schools with competitive graduate research programs and top facilities, but Purdue's stellar reputation and offer of financial support ultimately led him to West Lafayette. Here he has applied his skills and knowledge to sustainability projects since 2007.

"I have an interest in tribology," he says. A branch of mechanical engineering, tribology focuses on the design, friction, wear and lubrication of interacting surfaces.

Two tribology-related projects currently consume Bomidi's time and attention. One seeks to understand the lubrication of joints in a molecular scale; the second aims to develop sustainable additives to lubricants. "The extreme pressure (EP) and anti-wear (AW) additives are usually not readily biodegradable," Bomidi says. As part of his research, he seeks to discern a structure-function relationship between readily biodegradable elements that provide excellent EP and AW performance.

While Bomidi maintains a keen interest in the lubrication/friction-wear side of engineering, he says he realized that considering the green factor could reap rich rewards. "The need today calls for it," he says, noting that much can be achieved within green parameters. This requires a multidisciplinary approach, which he also finds appealing.

Through his work, Bomidi hopes to validate processes for testing and quantifying biodegradability, especially that of lubricant oils and additives. This will eventually require the use of a four-ball machine, which is commonly used to test EP and AW performance of lubricants.

"The EP and AW additives being used are not green—not readily biodegradable," Bomidi says. "This research will add to the value of the lubricant and will also be environmentally friendly—or rather sustainable." Such a lubricant would offer added value as lubricants found in living organisms and nature are extremely efficient compared to traditional lubricants and do less long-term damage to the environment.

While Bomidi launched his research at Purdue just over a year ago, he has quickly found the experience rewarding. Bomidi says that Fu Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and Bomidi's adviser, plays a key role in developing the plan for his work while providing Bomidi freedom to pursue his own ideas. Meanwhile he consumes countless books, research papers and online articles that whet his appetite for discovery and add to his determination to make an impact through his research.

Clearly, Bomidi will not be satisfied until he achieves his "green" tribology goals: "Research ought to produce results," he says.

-Matt Schnepf