Nanotechnology has many uses. One such use is to reduce friction in a comprehensive range of commercial and industrial products. It is also used in the oil and lubrication industry.
But is it possible that adding microscopic particles to oil, grease and lubricants can in addition to helping reduce friction, also boost component wear protection in some of the biggest machines used in shipping, railways, marine engineering, mining, and heavy industry?
Nanol Technologies, based in Finland, says it is possible and by employing smart engineering and science, its products do just that. The company combines chemistry, nanotechnology and 30 years of fundamental research, supported by exhaustive testing, to produce commercial lube additives.
The company was founded four years ago in Helsinki and ranked number one out of more than 700 other startups earlier this year. It has sales offices in Finland, Germany and Russia. It says its products contain additives that can reduce the wear of surfaces by creating a nano-thin protective layer of copper ions. This extends the lifetime of machine components and lubricants and reduces fossil fuel usage.
Dr Aubrey Burrows, the company’s senior advisor, says Nanol products are “…unique and different” in terms of chemistry and how they function. He explains how the products work. Traditional lubricant additives used to provide wear protection and reduce friction are based on zinc dialkyldithiophosphates (ZDDPs) and organic fatty acid derivatives.
ZDDPs contain phosphorus that poisons exhaust gas catalysts, which is a major problem in this application. New technology is required to boost wear performance. The organic fatty acid derivatives used as friction modifiers are quickly depleted and do not provide robust performance. Consequently new types of additives are required to improve energy efficiency.
Nanol products are different because they are not based on conventional nanotechnology. The technology breakthrough is that the Nanol additive is homogenous and contains copper particles which are dispersed in a stable colloid and forms a nano-thin copper protective layer on a metal surface. 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,” Dr Burns says. The key step to form the nanofilm is surface activation, which starts a redox reaction that reduces copper ions in the additive and deposits copper on the metal surface. The additive also has the capability to repair the nanofilm and ensure robust, enhanced performance.
“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,” he comments. Dr Burrows has more than 30 years’ experience in the oil industry and has focused much of his career on energy efficiency and long-life lubricants.
Professor Matthias Scherge, an independent researcher who works with Nanol, says the company has a sober approach to testing compared with many other companies in the field. “They use data that is more reflective of real-world applications, rather than trying to speed things up. This gives more accurate results,” he notes.
Prof Scherge is a world expert 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. He is impressed with the Nanol team’s commitment and drive.
“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. Nanol’s product is not just a quick fix, they are sincere and they understand the basics.
“In short, their performance in the time I have worked with them has been remarkable. 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,” he comments.
Nanol’s production is outsourced to Harjavalta, West Finland, to a Finnish speciality chemicals producer, CrisolteQ, a pioneer in recovering and recycling valuable elements and metals for the chemical industry. Nanol and CrisolteQ work together as strategic partners.