What are the relative efficiencies and reasons for power losses in sprocket and chain drives, rubber cogged belt drives, pulley drives, and gear drives? — RA, Montreal, Quebec
The only power loss mechanisms I can think of in each case are sliding friction and vibration. The drive system most likely to experience substantial sliding friction is a pulley (or smooth belt) drive. If the belt slips as the pulleys turn, the belt will do work against the force of sliding friction and that work will be converted into thermal energy. But, as one of my readers points out, if the belt is properly tightened, has an adequate coefficient of friction to prevent slipping, and has a high tensile strength so that it doesn’t creep across the pulley surface, then it can operate with very little power loss.
In the other drive systems, there is no possibility of slippage so that any power loss that occurs must be due to internal sliding friction within the components, or from vibrations. Flexing a chain involves some internal sliding friction and wastes some power. I suppose this could be minimized with careful chain construction and I wouldn’t be surprised if large change drive systems placed bearings in the chain links to eliminate sliding friction altogether. Flexing a rubber-cogged belt also involves some molecular friction within the belt material so it wastes some power. I’m not sure which system is more efficient, the chain drive or the cogged belt drive. Finally, the gear drive is the least likely to waste significant energy. The only sliding friction that occurs is between the gear teeth. If the teeth are designed well and cut carefully, they should slide very little. In that case, the only significant power loss would be through vibrations. If everything is carefully mounted to prevent vibrations, there should be very little power loss in a gear drive.