The end of the oil change?

Jan. 26, 2006
In this month's Technology Toolbox, Shiela Kennedy writes that nanotechnology-based liquid and solid lubricants may last forever.

High-performance, nanoparticle-based lubricants will soon minimize the labor and materials associated with preserving lubricant and equipment integrity. In oils, greases and solid lubricants, not only were the viability and value of nano-sized particles at issue, but health and environmental concerns need to be addressed.

These initial hurdles are being crossed, and commercially available industrial lubricants are on your horizon. Although nano-lubes may reduce the frequency of oil changes, they’ll increase the value proposition of condition-based maintenance practices.Purpose of nano-lubes: Conventional materials, when subdivided to the nanoscale, form nanoparticles, which are measured in nanometers.When particles are so small, their physical and chemical properties differ from those of the bulk material. For example, nanotechnology-based extreme-pressure and anti-wear additives were found to have high chemical and physical stability, even under extreme conditions. These properties translate to longer equipment operation, increased efficiency and extended maintenance intervals.Smaller, more stable lubricant particles reduce wear to extend the life of moving parts and alleviate friction, which reduces noise, heat and vibration. Environmental benefits include reduced energy consumption and decreased air pollution. The lower cost of maintenance, extended equipment life, improved machine performance and reduced downtime provide significant economic benefits.Nanoscale lubricant applications: In severe conditions, ordinary lubes can be squeezed out from between contact areas. Adding nanoparticles to the oil can reduce friction and wear rates, and increase load-bearing capacity. Coverage is improved, even on rough surfaces, because the nanoscale particles infiltrate even the tiniest spaces between contacting surfaces.Nanoparticles also can be impregnated into polymer or metal coatings to provide antifriction properties, and into porous metal parts to make self-lubricating components. Impregnating doesn’t sacrifice the mechanical properties of the base part.Maintenance-free solid lubricants are particularly suited to ultra-clean environments. They also can be used in heavy machinery such as turbines and engines, and high-performance applications like aviation and refrigeration.Safety considerations: Nanoparticles are so small that they can get into the human body quite easily, either by inhalation or transdermally. Nanoparticles suspended in liquid and stabilized with dispersants might be fairly safe to handle, but precautionary controls are continuously being refined as we learn more.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has initiated an information exchange on occupational health and safety issues with its “Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology” publication and Web page.Commercial products: ApNano Materials manufactures a nanoparticle-based solid lubricant and additive that’s depicted as the rolling of billions of miniature ball bearings. The idea is that it greatly reduces friction and wear in comparison to the sliding action of conventional lubricant additives.“As an inorganic material, NanoLub enhances the performance of moving parts, especially under high loads and in extremely harsh environments,” says Dr. Menachem Genut, president and CEO of ApNano Materials. “Independent tests have shown that NanoLub outperforms every known commercial solid lubricant marketed today.”Additionally, independent labs have found that NanoLub nanoparticles are non-toxic when inhaled and don’t cause skin sensitization.More than 30 industrial and academic parties, including Volkswagen and Hatco, are currently partnering with ApNano Materials to develop new and enhanced lubricants and coatings.Oil monitoring and analysis: Because nano-lubes play a crucial role in plant operations, the need for better condition monitoring and analysis remains a given. Nanotechnology minimizes the frequency of maintenance but makes predictive, need-based activities even more important.Real-time condition monitoring warns of wear, contamination, depletion and oxidation. Online methods allow timely analysis and diagnostics of changes in viscosity, dilution, acidity, alkalinity, water content, particle counts and filtration. Early detection minimizes the risk of machine failure and allows time for preventive measures.E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at [email protected].

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