In mythology, an elemental was a supernatural force associated with earth, water, air, or fire. In contemporary times, we know these creatures don’t exist — but we do have to contend with natural elements that almost seem to have otherworldly qualities.
Is there another way to think of the blistering power of thousand-degree temperatures, the destructive capacity of hurricane-force winds, or the erosive effects of the ocean’s waves?
In fact, there is another way: To think of these elements in terms of how we can master them. And research shows that it is possible to achieve that goal by developing surface coatings that offer superior protection against heat, erosion, corrosion, and friction.
Coatings developed over the years can withstand exposure to extreme conditions and so promote safe, efficient, economical work processes. Coatings have such great impact that they’ve become essential to preserving equipment, increasing energy efficiency, and extending the useful life of materials used in industrial applications.
Any activity that pits turbines, drills, and other machinery and parts against nature’s most daunting conditions is an activity that can benefit from these advanced coatings. For example:
- Wind power installations have to deal with sun, rain, snow, and naturally wind. Those located offshore have to also operate in aggressive, salty environments that pose a constant threat of corrosion. Complicating the challenge is the fact that coating materials used to protect these installations must be able to withstand varying forces, high impacts, and distortion.
Advanced surface solutions guard against the most common cause of breakdowns in wind power plants: fatigue in components such as transmission gears, which are subjected to up to 144 million revolutions of the rotor shaft or 15 billion revolutions of the generator shaft during their service life.
- Jet engines are the heaviest part of the aircraft, so reducing their weight can have a game-changing impact on energy efficiency and engine performance. One strategy for increasing efficiency is to run the engines at the highest temperature physically possible. But implementing that strategy requires additional heat protection for many components such as turbine blades.
Functional high-end coating technologies facilitate the development of these more productive engines. They allow aviation engineers to design protection strategies for jet engine components used for hotter and more efficient operation — including those made of lightweight materials that, prior to these innovations, were considered too delicate to function in this challenging environment.
- Hydropower is the primary renewable energy source used to generate electricity in 50 countries. In China, the world’s largest producer, hydroelectricity is the force behind an estimated 17 percent of domestic electricity use. But corrosion and erosion cause efficiency losses that are exacerbated by the amount and size of entrained silt, sand, and gravel in the water. The problem has increased as utilities’ on-going drive for profitability has prompted them to establish operations in less accessible, more contaminated waterways — a practice that further compromises the lifespan of hydropower turbine components.
Again here, coating technologies for hydropower turbine components are essential and allow them to reduce material erosion by a factor up to 50 from that of uncoated components.
Coatings, such as those by Oerlikon, make an undoubtedly clear case for mastering the elements. Advancing the properties and capabilities of coatings adds significant durability to turbines, drills, heavy mining equipment, jet engines, and industrial production systems. And that reduces waste, increases operating efficiency, and generates impressive savings in time, costs and non-renewable energy sources.
You could say these surface coatings are like an elemental force of nature.
By Randy Hecht
Under the Oerlikon Metco brand, Oerlikon has been providing innovative coating technologies to conquer the elements in energy generation, jet aviation, mining, and many other industries. For example, in hydropower, the company has been partnering over 85 years with turbine manufacturers in building up comprehensive knowledge of the conditions and the coatings needed to meet these challenges.