In today's world, nanotechnology can be employed in everything from cosmetics to paint, or steel and even toothpaste. it is also used in the oil and lubrication businesses. But how can microscopic particles help reduce fossil-fuel use and extend the life on components for some of the heaviest and large machines - used in shipping, railways, marine engineering, mining and heavy industry?
Adding particles measuring between between one and 100 nanometres across to oil, grease and lubricants has created a fiercely competitive business, with hundreds of companies claiming to revolutionise the effects of wear and tear. However, much of the existing technology to reduce friction and boost wear protection doesn't get beyond the test-tube or the lab.
Nanol Technologies, based in Finland, is combining chemistry, nanotechnology and 3o years of fundamental research, in a unique start-up culture, to produce commercial lube additives which are supported by the most stringent research and exhaustive testing.
Their products contain additives which can reduce the wear of surfaces by creating a nano-thin protective layer of copper ions. This reduces wear and extends the lifetime of components and lubricants, reducing fossil-fuel usage. However, through some clever engineering and science, the products work by actually using the effects of friction.
The company was founded four years ago in Helsinki, among a vibrant start-up community, alongside others from the music, gaming and life-science industries. The company has become one of the hottest start-ups in Finland earlier this year, ranked number one out of more than 700 others.
After securing new funding, some of the world's best chemists, researchers and oil additive experts are helping to develop materials at Nanol, which push the boundaries in reducing wear, lowering costs and improving efficiency.
Dr. Aubrey Burrows, the company's Senior Advisor, is someone with more than 30 year's experience in the oil industry, who has focussed much of his career on energy efficiency and long-life lubricants. He explains: "The Nanol products are unique and different in terms of chemistry and how they function." However, it wasn't only the chemistry and fuel challenge which brought Dr. Burrows to work with the team. "One of the things that attracted me to Nanol was that I like the people. They are professional and committed as well as friendly and enthusiastic. The team is not just out to make a fast buck."
"The technology breakthrough is that the Nanol additive forms a nano-thin copper protective layer on the metal surface. Traditional lubricant additives used to provide wear protection and reduce friction are based on zinc diakyldithiophosphates (ZDDPs) and organic fatty acid derivatives."
"ZDDPs contain phosphorous which poisons exhaust gas catalysts, which is a major problem. New technology is required to boost wear performance. The organic fatty acid derivates used as friction modifies are quickly depleted and do not provide robust performance. So you need new types of additives to improve energy efficiency.
He said the Nanol products are different because they are not based on conventional nanotechnology. "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 overbased 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. 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. 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."
Professor Scherge added: "Their copperbased 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."
Lube magazine no. 122 August 2014