Less friction, less power, less fuel — plowshares coated with diamond-like carbon (DLC) slide through the soil like a hot knife through butter.
As a result, the tractors pulling them need less power and fuel. In some tests the power required has been reduced by more than 30 percent.
Extremely hard, diamond-like carbon coatings are used to protect hard disks in computers and ensure that sliding bearings remain smooth. In the future they could help farmers to save fuel while plowing and make it easier to till the ground. Farmers in Germany consume nearly a billion liters of fuel every year to work their land. Around 50 per cent of the energy used when plowing or harrowing is lost as a result of friction between the plowshare and the soil. To change this, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg and their partners in the RemBob project are working on DLC-coated plowshares. They have already been able to reduce friction by half. The power required by the tractor has also been reduced, by more than 30 per cent in some tests.
For farmers, the smoothly cutting plowshares mean either a time gain because they can use wider equipment or lower costs for fuel, machinery and maintenance. The tractors can be smaller or can operate in partial load, with longer repair and maintenance intervals.
“From the environmental point of view it would be better for the tractors to be smaller,” says physicist and trained fruit farmer Martin Hörner from Fraunhofer IWM. They would not only need less fuel but would also be lighter. Lighter machines mean less soil compaction, and the looser the soil, the less power is needed to work it. The quality of the soil would also be better. In highly compacted ground there are hardly any worms and other small creatures which help to turn the soil and enrich it with nutrients. Compacted soils are less able to absorb water and dry out more quickly. “In Germany we are relatively advanced as far as protecting soil resources is concerned, but even in this country more soil is lost by compaction and erosion than is created by natural processes,” explains Hörner.