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Reduced Friction Make Diamonds a Plow's Best Friend

dlc-coated plow
Left: Experimental DLC-coated tools after use. Initial test results; the improved coatings after the same plowing distance are shown in the bottom of the picture. Right: DLC-coated plowshare for test purposes. (Image credit: Felizitas Gemetz, Fraunhofer Institute)

Diamonds are already forever, and you better believe they're a girl's best friend, but Germany's Fraunhofer Research Institute thinks the precious stones could benefit farmers even more than fiancés.

Based on the new research, plowshares coated in diamond like carbon (DLC) generate significantly less friction than their regular counterparts. For farmers, the smoothly cutting plowshares mean either a time gain because they can use wider equipment or lower costs for fuel, machinery and maintenance. The tractors can be smaller or can operate in partial load, with longer repair and maintenance intervals.

Furthermore, the lighter machines enabled by these smooth running plowshares would compact the soil less, preventing erosion and leaving farmers with a higher quality of loam.

"From the environmental point of view it would be better for the tractors to be smaller," said Martin Hörner a physicist at the Fraunhofer Institute and trained fruit farmer. "In Germany we are relatively advanced as far as protecting soil resources is concerned, but even in this country more soil is lost by compaction and erosion than is created by natural processes."

Extremely hard, diamond-like carbon coatings are used to protect hard disks in computers and ensure that sliding bearings. The plow uses the same kind of DLC coating.

Currently, around 50 percent of the energy used when plowing or harrowing is lost as a result of friction between the plowshare and the soil. But with the DLC coated plowshares, the power required by the tractor has been reduced by more than 30 percent in some tests.

Sand and stones wear down conventional coatings within a very short time. This is why plowshares have not been coated up to now. DLC coatings, however, can withstand the extreme stresses and strains. The problem is that the tough steel on the groundworking equipment deforms too easily and is therefore unsuitable as a substrate for the much more rigid diamond-like coating -- it would quickly spall.

The project partners are therefore testing plowshares made of different materials, including nitriding steel, glass-fiber-reinforced plastic and tungsten carbide, out in the field. The next project goal is to plow at least 12.5 miles of ground before the coating fails.

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to Live Science. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

Live Science Staff
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