Available Technology

Pulsed Plasma Lubrication Device and Method

Pulsed plasma lubricator for the in situ replenishment of lubricants in extreme environments
JPL's pulsed plasma lubricator comprises a solid lubricant disposed between and in contact with a pair of electrodes that are sized and configured such that the application of a sufficiently large electric potential between the two electrodes produces a plasma that vaporizes a portion of the solid lubricant. The electric potential can be applied as a plurality of pulses for a duration that depends on the lubrication needs of that mechanical assembly, the composition of the solid lubricant, etc. The resulting vapor stream of solid lubricant can be directed onto the surface of a mechanical assembly. This provides a reduction of surface wear and, therefore, extends the lifetime of the mechanical assembly. A PPL device has demonstrated the ability to deposit films of lubricating materials on a remote surface with lubricating and wear-resistance properties equal to or greater than pre-applied films of dry lubricants. These films can be replenished when degraded to again regain lubricating properties and minimize wear. The demonstrated PPL is 3 mm in characteristic size with low power consumption (
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has developed a small, low-power system for reliably depositing films of lubricants. Lubricants are often used to extend the lifetime of mechanical assemblies in extreme environments, such as space. Wet lubricants are sometimes used, but they require active heating to prevent solidification in extremely cold temperatures. Dry lubricants provide superior lubrication and are not susceptible to solidification, but continued operation of the mechanical assembly removes the lubricant over time, and this eventually leads to mechanical failure. JPL's pulsed plasma lubricator (PPL) is a practical means of extending of the life of dry lubricants. In less than five minutes, the PPL can replenish the lubricating material sufficiently to enable hours of operation. PPL technology has the demonstrated potential to extend the lifetime of mechanical assemblies in extreme environments, thus maximizing the usefulness and reliability of expensive equipment.

Achieves both low friction and high wear resistance over a long lifetime while overcoming the temperature limitations of wet lubricants


Mechanisms in extreme environments and mechanisms that are not easily field-serviceable - deep-sea and arctic oil drilling, communications satellites with long-life actuators (e.g., for antennas and propulsion systems)

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Patent Issue Date: 
June 11, 2015
Far West
Lab Representatives
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