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UNR’s coating formulation may head to market " just not yet

NNBW staff

Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, are talking with a major aerospace company that’s interested in commercial applications of a new coating for aluminum, a coating that replaces current products that are carcinogenic.

But the lead researcher says no one should hold their breath waiting for an agreement.

Between further testing as well as the Department of Defense approval process, commercialization is at least five or six years in the future, says Dev Chidambaram, lead scientist and assistant professor of materials science and engineering at UNR.

And that’s assuming that the new formulation continues to perform in real-world tests.

“We are not close to commercialization yet,” says Chidambaram.

The formulation developed by the UNR team and presented to researchers at a scientific meeting last month would replace the chromate conversion coatings have been used for more than 50 years to protect aluminum from corrosion.

Attempts to replace chromate coatings with non-toxic coatings have been under way since the 1980s.

Although the use of chromates for consumer and automotive applications has been banned, it is still in use by the defense and aerospace industries under various exemptions.

The carcinogenic coatings were exempted from the ban because no suitable replacement was available. Then, too, there’s high cost both in lives as well as dollars if aerospace equipment fails from corrosion.

But Chidambaram says search for a suitable replacement has been elusive primarily due to one main characteristic of the coating referred to as “self-healing,” the ability of the coating to heal itself after being damaged or scratched.

The formulation developed at UNR performs comparably to the chromate formula in its ability for self-healing, which is important to the defense and aerospace industry. The researchers tested more than 300 coatings, running them through advanced analysis such as Raman microspectroscopy and energy dispersive spectroscopy.

The team includes graduate student David Rodriquez, who conducted the extensive testing on the materials, and intern Roshan Misra, who began the project as a high school summer intern from Reno High School and now is an undergraduate aerospace engineering major at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The team is still working to optimize the coating formulation for even better protection.

“This has taken 14 years of work, continuing on work I did at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Brookhaven National Laboratory,” Chidambaram said.

SIDEBAR

How it works

If you want to see how the UNR coating technology works, with coating components that migrate to a damaged region and re-protect the underlying alloy, go to http://www.electrochemical.org and click on “Cool Videos.”