Lubrication technology is reaching a golden age, the age of additives.
In an industrial world where synthetic lubricants seem to have reached the top of their evolutionary game, so where else is there to go if we want to keep improving on the economy of mechanical wear through reduced friction?
The answer is a small one: Nanotechnology.
At present, hundreds of companies around the world are scrambling to develop ways of adding certain substances in the form of microscopic particles, a nanometer or a hundred across, to improve the performance of lubricants, oils and grease.
Naturally, any improvement in lubrication performance has the on-flow effect of reducing the rate of fossil-fuel use, by reducing wear, extending the life of components and cutting down on maintenance costs.
With such intense competition to reach the next technological breakthrough, one company seems to be breaking ahead of the rest, and it’s certainly not one of the majors.
Finland-based Nanol Technologies is a relatively new start-up, founded four years ago in Helsinki, part of a vibrant culture of new-tech start-ups, which includes games developers, musical producers, and life scientists.
Combining an entrepreneurial working culture and chemistry expertise has delivered excellent results for Nanol Technology, which already has sales offices in Finland, Germany and Russia.
Production is outsourced to Harjavalta, West Finland, to a Finnish speciality chemicals producer called CrisolteQ, which has been a pioneer in recovering and recycling valuable elements and metals for the chemical industry.
Nanol Technologies has secured new funding and some of the world’s best chemists, researchers and oil additive experts, to help develop revolutionary materials which push the boundaries of surface wear performance, lowering operating costs for customers and improving efficiency.
One of the companies founders, Nanol CEO Johan von Knorring is very proud of the achievements they’ve made in such a short time, and he attributes a good portion of that to their business culture.
“This is an exciting area to be in,” he said.
“Of course, we’re not your typical start-up, with pony-tails and bean-bags in the office, however we do have a good combination of enthusiasm and experience, people both young and more experienced, people who work hard and who are knowledgeable and people who are passionate about what we can achieve.”
In only four years Nanol Technologies now produce their signature commercial lubricant additive, Nanol™.
In short, Nanol™ improves lubrication by forming of a protective nano-layer of copper ions on the friction surfaces, which prevents hydrogen from destroying the contact surfaces.
Copper nanoparticles are suspended and perfectly distributed in the Nanol, which is simply added to the lubricant.
Nanol senior advisor Dr Aubrey Burrows has more than 30 years experience in the oil industry, who has focussed much of his career on energy efficiency and long-life lubricants.
“The Nanol products are unique and different in terms of chemistry and how they function,” he said.
“Traditional lubricant additives used to provide wear protection and reduce friction are based on zinc dialkyldithiophosphates (ZDDPs) and organic fatty acid derivatives.
“ZDDPs contain phosphorous which poisons exhaust gas catalysts, which is a major problem.
“The organic fatty acid derivatives used as friction modifiers are quickly depleted and do not provide robust performance, so you need new types of additives are required to improve energy efficiency.”
Burrows said the Nanol products are different because they are not based on conventional nanotechnology, which enhances their safety.
“The Nanol additive is homogenous and contains copper particles which are dispersed in a stable colloid.
“The structure of the colloid is similar to that in over-based detergents containing metal carbonates which are widely used in oil formulations.”
“This means that Nanol products do not have any problems and difficulties associated with conventional nanotechnology and there are no health and safety concerns.
Part of the genius of Nanol is that the nano-particles are actually activated by surface friction, which helps the copper to bond with surfaces.
“The key step to form the nano-film is surface activation which starts a redox reaction that reduces copper ions in the additive, to deposit copper on the metal surface,” Burrows explained.
“The additive also has the capability to repair the nano-film and ensure robust enhanced performance.”
Dr Burrows added: “The Nanol technology is a game changer because it not only differs chemically and mechanistically, it also opens the door to formulate a new generation of lubricants with enhanced performance.”
Professor Matthias Scherge, who is working with Nanol as an independent researcher, is one of the world’s experts on tribology, the study of friction, wear, and lubrication.
He has worked in the industry for around 10 years and is currently Director of the Fraunhofer IWM Micro Tribology Centre, Germany.
“With Tribology we try to come up with long term recipes. Most people think that if a door is creaking you get some oil. That only is a temporary solution for a few months, what we do is we look how to solve the creaking hinges problem for the next 10 years,” Scherge said.
“Nanol has a different approach to testing, compared to many others. They use data which is more reflective of real-world applications, rather than trying to speed things up. This gives more accurate results.”
“Their copper-based approach product is clever, with changes to the copper structure. Friction changes the first one or two hundred nanometres of material and people think that you put a layer over the material, then that’s it. But it is not, that’s where the Nanol product is different.”