Slippery when dry

UND mechanical engineer Suroijt Gupta re-envisions the modern turbomachinery to reduce the need for oil-based lubricants

Surojit Gupta

Assistant Professor Surojit Gupta works in his lab in Upson Hall II, part of the UND College of Engineering & Mines. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

When people imagine the machines of the future, they might envision flying cars or engines that run without gasoline.

UND Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Surojit Gupta has his own futuristic vision: an engine that doesn’t need oil.

Gupta recently started a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the U.S. Army Research Lab worth about $360,000 over three years. Per the agreement, Gupta and his team of graduate students will assist the Army in creating self-lubricating materials and high-temperature propulsion systems. UND’s Mechanical Engineering Department is part of the College of Engineering & Mines, a collaborative research leader in five major disciplines: mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical and petroleum engineering.

Part 1 of Gupta’s project is to design solid lubricant materials. The materials will be able to withstand higher temperatures than current designs, making the need for oil a thing of the past. Part 2 involves designing high-temperature materials for high-powered turbines. Turbines are currently manufactured with nickel-based alloys, which have lower functional temperatures.

Though it’s too early to say how long the materials would last, Gupta hypothesizes that the materials will have a longer life than current traditional oil-based machinery and will be better for the environment.

“As you can imagine, if you eliminate oil from machinery you can reduce the cost so much,” says Gupta, who earlier this year was named the winner of the 2016 Global Young Investigator Award at an international conference in Florida.

Surjit Gupta student lab

Members of Surojit Gupta’s engineering labortory (left to right): Eric Kramer, Kathryn Hall, Gupta, Donovan Blue, Rebecca Larson, Jared Steen, Sujan Ghosh, Matt Fuka, Adam Stoker and Lucas Yutrzenka. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Civilian applications, too

If Gupta and his team are successful, their designs would enable devices to fly longer in both combat and peacetime environments, for missions ranging from providing improved medical support, to protection for friendly troops on-ground.

Gupta believes the day will come when his research will shift from creating self-lubricating materials to actually applying those novel materials to real-world machines.

He says the most realistic application for these new materials is in an aerospace environment, perhaps in the form of a shaft and gearbox that will be made of UND’s new multifunctional materials.

These materials also might be used for numerous civilian applications, such as oil-free engines and other devices — such as “polymer contact devices where solid lubrication is needed,” Gupta said.

“Normally when you have cars, we tend to replace oil, and changing oil is always a problem,” Gupta said. “Imagine if we have structures where you don’t need to change the oil in the system; we can use the solid lubricants and eliminate the oil. We don’t need any kind of coolant system — that will eliminate the cost of that as well as reduce pollution.”