Nanotechnology helps North Carolina’s racing, trucking industries run more smoothly

North Carolina Board of Science and Technology
July 17, 2009

North Carolina, Nanotechnology, and NASCAR. At first glance, it seems like the only thing these three words have in common is their first letter. But in North Carolina, innovation is playing a key part in helping race cars run more efficiently.

“From relatively humble beginnings, North Carolina has grown into a recognized global leader in racing technology and innovation,” says Derek Chen, director of Motorsports Development at the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “The Tar Heel state is fortunate to have a concentration of top race teams, suppliers and R&D facilities working collaboratively to create world-class products,” he adds.

One such innovative company, High Performance Coatings, owned by nCoat Inc., is using nanotechnology – the science of engineering very small particles – to make faster, more fuel efficient race cars. Paul Clayson, the CEO of nCoat Inc., located in Whitsett, North Carolina, spoke about how his company is using nanotechnology to benefit North Carolina motor sports and trucking industries.

Mr. Clayson explained that nCoat provides both interior and exterior nanotechnology-based protective coatings for several industries including automotive, racing, diesel, and marine applications. These special coatings are spray-painted on to coat racecar engine parts. Examples of products his company makes are “Performance Engine Coatings” which reduce friction and increase horsepower and “Appearance Coatings” which protect parts that are exposed to corrosive agents while still maintaining an attractive appearance.

According to Clayson, “the technology used by High Performance Coatings has made significant improvements, particularly in regards to emissions and fuel efficiency for North Carolina’s robust diesel trucking and racing industries.”

With new technological developments in the racing industry, new problems have emerged. When engine parts overheat, as often happens in racing conditions, the parts experience greater wear and tear. This increased corrosion and abrasion eventually reduces fuel efficiency and results in a faster degradation of automotive materials.

In NASCAR racing, performance is the top priority. Clayson said “Our innovative technologies use nanotech to coat pistons, reduce friction and allow for more efficiency, preventing engine degradation. This helps to keep heat down which allows for greater horsepower.”

High Performance Coatings makes two types of engine coatings designed especially for the racing industry,HiPerCoatTMand HiPerCoat Extreme™. According to the company’s website, both coatings “reduce underhood temperatures and increase the speed of exhaust flow through the headers and exhaust system.” The heat management of these coatings protects both cars and drivers while helping the car to run more efficiently.

Not only has nanotechnology helped the NASCAR industry in North Carolina, it has also been useful in other industries as well, particularly in North Carolina’s trucking industry.

“Our state is certainly bolstered when innovations in racing technologies are applied to other notable North Carolina strengths including the aerospace, medical and automotive industries,” said Derek Chen.

High Performance Coatings provides nanotech coatings to protect truck engines from corrosion particulates that can cause extensive damage. Clayson’s company makes coatings for both interior and exterior parts of diesel engines that have been proven to reduce engine damage from thermal fatigue and oxidation.

A recent challenge for the trucking industry is to meet new, stricter, federal Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) clean air standards designed to reduce pollution. According to the EPA website, these new standards “will reduce the sulfur content of highway diesel fuel from its current level of 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million – a 97 percent reduction.” These standards will be phased in gradually until 2010. The trucking industry has to innovate in order to meet these new standards, and cost-effective, feasible solutions are needed to reduce emissions from high acidic and heat conditions.

“Our coatings provide an inexpensive way to modify existing engine parts to meet these new standards instead of purchasing new parts,” adds Clayson.

In addition to upgrading older trucks, High Performance Coatings’ technology also provides improved performance in newer trucks.

The new generation of diesel trucks is equipped with turbocharged engines, which use air from the engine exhaust flow to spin a turbine, which in turn spins an air pump. On one hand, this reduces exhaust emissions, which helps to meet the new EPA standards. On the other hand, since the air pump is hooked up to the exhaust, the temperatures in the turbine are very high, increasing engine corrosion. This is where High Performance Coatings’ products come in. “We can use our nanotech coatings to protect the engine from the increased heat and corrosion while increasing durability and efficiency and decreasing pollution emissions,” says Clayson.

High Performance Coatings has brought nanotechnology to two of North Carolina’s strongest industries. Their coatings have been proven to protect engines, reduce pollution, and promote fuel efficiency, among many other great benefits. This technology will become essential to the automotive industry as emissions standards are strengthened and improved engine and fuel efficiency become important considerations to everyday Americans.

Lindsay Haslebacher is a rising senior majoring in Public Policy and Political Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. Lindsay is a graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and recently completed an internship with the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology.

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