The Tribology Opportunities Study: Can tribology save a quad?

Robert W. Carpick, Andrew Jackson, W. Gregory Sawyer, Nic Argibay, Peter Lee, Angela Pachon & Robert M. Gresham | TLT Trends May 2016

Time for a modern-day Jost Report—is your research related to energy savings?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / alexeys

DURING THE LAST DECADE, annual energy consumption in the U.S. has hovered near 100 quads (1 quad = 1015 Btu = 1018 J) (1). Recently, increased demand from population and economic growth has been offset by higher efficiency.

However, reducing the production of CO2 and managing its accumulation are increasingly urgent challenges with the potential to positively shape the future of our ecosystem and improve quality of life, including addressing alarming trends of rising sea levels due to glacier melting and declining crop production due to desertification (2, 3). Reducing energy consumption will have a direct impact on CO2 production.

A substantial amount of this energy is not only not useful but actually lost due to friction and wear. For instance, the transportation sector consumed more than 26 quads of energy in 2014, a third of which is used simply to overcome frictional losses (4). It has been previously estimated that almost 11% of the energy used by the transportation sector, the industrial sector and the utilities sector can be saved by new developments in tribology (5).

With this goal in mind, the Tribology Opportunities Study, funded by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) (6), is being led by the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Florida, Sandia National Laboratories, the Southwest Research Institute and STLE with the intent of identifying pathways and recommending research directions to reduce the energy consumed in the United States by a quad annually through tribology.

Fifty years ago in March 1966, Sir Peter Jost analyzed the state of lubrication research in the UK and estimated potential savings of £515 million per year, equivalent to 1.3% of the UK’s GDP that year (7). The Jost Report catapulted the newly coined field of tribology to the forefront of government-funded research and triggered a number of similar investigations during the following decade in the U.S., Germany, Canada and China that arrived at similar conclusions (8). Consensus was that savings between 1.0 to 1.4 % of a country’s GDP may be achieved through research and development expenditure on the order of 1/50th of the savings (e.g., $1 toward research saves $50 over the course of the following year), a figure considered still valid today (8, 9).

To achieve this, these reports suggested increasing research activity by establishing tribology research-focused national R&D centers and laboratories and by increasing awareness of the potential impacts of tribology among both the academic and industrial research communities. The Jost Report inspired many countries to assess their energy consumption behavior and to characterize the sources of energy loss. Decades of ensuing research have achieved great strides toward the development of high-efficiency tribological materials as well as evolving our fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of wear and friction.

However, there is an evident and pressing need to revisit the core ideas identified in the Jost Report in a modern technological context with a focus on addressing contemporary challenges in energy use and revitalizing the role of tribology research in the 21st Century. Moreover, the great advances in methods like atomically resolved simulations and in-situ tribology testing across length scales creates opportunities for revolutionary new ideas that were impossible to explore in the past.

To this end, we would like to challenge the community to provide suggestions and specific ideas to save massive amounts of energy and have a tangible impact on CO2 emission and climate change, potentially redefining the role of tribology in this modernized context. Emphasis should be on revolutionary, not evolutionary approaches, but with end-use implementation kept in mind.

Does your research have a focus on the reduction of energy use? Do you see the potential to reduce the annual energy consumption by a quad through tribological improvements? Can you recommend innovative and cutting-edge research projects that would achieve this?

If so, we want to know about it, and we will consider highlighting your ideas in our report, which will be finalized by December 2016 and then published by STLE. To submit your ideas, go to

The anticipated outcome of this study is to highlight promising areas of tribology research that can then be funded by ARPA-E to reduce energy consumption in the United States. ARPA-E’s mission is to support high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. ARPA-E projects have the potential to radically improve U.S. economic security, national security, and environmental well-being with funding, technical assistance and market readiness (6).

It is both timely and important for the tribology community to be recruited by ARPA-E to address the challenge of energy efficiency.

1. Monthly Energy Review. (2016), US Energy Information Administration.
2. Olivier, J.G.J. and Janssens-Maenhout, G. (2015), “CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion part III: Total greenhouse gas emissions,” International Energy Agency.
3. State of the Climate: Global Analysis for September 2015. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.
4. Holmberg, K., Andersson, P. and Erdemir, A. (2012), “Global energy consumption due to friction in passenger cars,” Trib. Int. 47, 221-234.
5. Pinkus, O. and Wilcock, D.F. (1977), “Strategy for energy conservation through tribology,” American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York (1977).
6. Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Available at:
7. Jost, H.P. (1966) Lubrication (Tribology): Education and Research - A Report on the Present Position and Industry’s Needs. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
8. Jost, H.P. (1990), “Tribology - Origin and future,” Wear 136, 1-17 (1990).
9. Jost, H.P. (2005), “Tribology micro & macro economics: A road to economic savings,” Tribology and Lubrication Technology 61, 18-22.

About the authors
Robert W. Carpick is the John Henry Towne professor and department chair in Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. You can reach him at

Andrew Jackson is the professor of Practice, Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. You can contact him at

W. Gregory Sawyer is the Ebaugh professor in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida. You can reach him at

Nic Argibay is a senior member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories. He can be contacted at

Peter Lee is principal engineer in the Fuels & Lubricants Research Division at the Southwest Research Institute. You can contact Peter at

Angela Pachon is the Garcia Research Director at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. You can reach Angela at

Robert Gresham is STLE’s director of professional development. You can reach Bob at