President's corner: On the Role of Tribology in a Sustainable Future

date: 30.05.2022

Since the Industrial Revolution, the persistent increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has reached a tipping point and threatens ecosystems, biodiversity, and human well-being. The biggest challenge is to transition from a “business as usual” attitude into caring about solutions that can mitigate the worst consequences of climate change.

In recent years, World Leaders under the auspices of the United Nations have held a series of Climate Summits. The latest one was held in Glasgow-UK from October 31, 2021 – November 12, 2021 and culminated in drafting several promising treaties committing to more seriously dealing with GHG emissions and global mean temperature rise to avoid “climate catastrophe.” From the Glasgow Summit, it has become clear that to limit temperature rise by <1.5oC, GHG had to be cut by half within this decade, with further cuts to follow. Despite such dramatic measures, by the end of this century, we could experience warming by 2.5oC, which might be more tolerable than the 4oC trajectory that we would be on without cuts. 

The big question is – how can we reduce GHGs to hold global mean temperature under the 1.5oC threshold with some certainty? The obvious answer is to implement more environmentally sensible or responsible practices that are efficient, durable, and green in every respect. For instance, increasing the use of renewable energy sources with near-zero emissions and reducing those that depend heavily on the uses of non-renewables, like coal, oil, and natural gas. Further, we must all agree on a new paradigm that favors a circular economy, guaranteeing sustainable global growth for the generations to come.

As in the past, future technologies will continue to rely on mechanical systems whose smooth, safe, and long-lasting operations are directly impacted by friction, wear, and lubrication. Despite many great advances in tribomaterials and lubrication technologies, we still waste significant energy to overcome friction and wear. Nearly a quarter of the world’s primary energy consumption is due to friction and wear related losses. Hence, a key contributor to reducing GHG emissions is controlling or reducing friction and wear of these mechanical systems, ultimately saving a considerable amount of energy. As a multifaceted field, Tribology can be an important discipline to help achieve our energy and environmental goals. There is no doubt that with ongoing research and discoveries, tribology will play a key role in making future mechanical systems far more reliable, efficient, and green, altogether creating a more sustainable world. If you would like to see some of the latest discoveries in our field, please join us at the next World Tribology Congress in Lyon, France, from July 10 to 15, 2022.

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