Atomic force microscopy and tribology study of the adsorption of alcohols on diamond-like carbon coatings and steel

M. Kalin, R. Simič

Applied Surface Science 271 (2013) 317-328.


Polar molecules are known to affect the friction and wear of steel contacts via adsorption onto the surface, which represents one of the fundamental boundary-lubrication mechanisms. Since the basic chemical and physical effects of polar molecules on diamond-like carbon (DLC) coatings have been investigated only very rarely, it is important to find out whether such molecules have a similar effect on DLC coatings as they do on steel. In our study the adsorption of hexadecanol in various concentrations (2–20 mmol/l) on DLC was studied under static conditions using an atomic force microscope (AFM). The amount of surface coverage, the size and the density of the adsorbed islands of alcohol molecules were analyzed. Tribological tests were also performed to correlate the wear and friction behaviours with the adsorption of molecules on the surface. In this case, steel surfaces served as a reference. The AFM was successfully used to analyze the adsorption ability of polar molecules onto the DLC surfaces and a good correlation between the AFM results and the tribological behaviour of the DLC and the steel was found. We confirmed that alcohols can adsorb physically and chemically onto the DLC surfaces and are, therefore, potential boundary-lubrication agents for the DLC coatings. The adsorption of alcohol onto the DLC surfaces reduces the wear of the coatings, but it is less effective in reducing the friction because of the already inherently low-friction properties of DLC. Tentative adsorption mechanisms that include the environmental species effect, the temperature effect and the tribological rubbing effect are proposed for DLC and steel surfaces.

Keywords: DLC, AFM, alcohol, tribology, tribologija, DLC coatings, adsorption, adsorpcija, coatings, Diamond-like carbon, steel


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