Nanolubrication in practice

R. David Whitby | TLT Worldwide May 2014

A Finnish company is marketing ‘nanotechnology-based lubricant oil additives’ that could find their way into auto-engine oils.

In a field trial conducted on a ferry, fuel consumption was reduced by 4 percent, oil consumption was reduced by 10 percent, and there was a significant reduction in engine wear.

ALMOST 10 YEARS AGO IN THIS COLUMN, I posed the question “Is Nanolubrication a Real Subject?”

In July 2004 I wrote, “In my experience, lubrication and lubricants have been utilizing nanotechnology from the very first applications in ancient Greece, even though this has only been recognized during the last few years. For many years, lubrication engineers and chemists have described boundary lubricant and lubricity additives in terms of their adsorption or reaction on metal surfaces and their physical separation of surfaces by long, non-polar hydrocarbon chains. In other words, boundary lubricants are known to act at the molecular level. Antiwear and extreme- pressure additives also act at the molecular level by chemically reacting with metal surfaces to form either protective films or easily sheared coatings.”

My faith in the abilities of tribologists, both engineers and chemists, has been confirmed by the recent commercialization of R&D carried out during the last 30 years into a novel antiwear and antifriction additive technology now being promoted by a small Finnish company, Ab Nanol Technologies Oy, founded in 2010. The company develops and produces “nanotechnology-based lubricant oil additives.” The company’s name, Nanol, reflects the focus of its lubrication technology— building a “nano-thin metalplating film” that covers active friction surfaces to reduce friction and wear.

According to Nanol, the breakthrough innovation consists in forming a protective nanolayer on the friction surfaces that “prevents hydrogen from destroying the contact surfaces.” The precisely distributed suspended copper nanoparticles form a thin protective layer on, and only on, the friction surfaces. The “metalplating copper film” is claimed to protect the friction zones against wear, reduce the operation temperature of the friction units and extend the lifetime of machines and components.

The technology is patented (Application No. 20140031267, publication date January 30, 2014), describing a lubricant additive composition that includes oil-soluble metal salts of inorganic and organic acids and abrasive particles. The abrasive particles comprise carbonates, nitrides, carbides and/ or oxides of boron, carbon and/or alkaline earth metal groups. The particles preferably have average diameters of 1-3 μm. The abrasive particles are claimed to “enhance diffusion of metal ions,” which are present in lubricant in the form of metal salts, into the crystal lattice of friction surfaces.”

Development of the additive system was done in close cooperation with several institutes, including the TUAS Turku University of Applied Sciences in Finland, the Automobil-Prüftechnik Landau in Germany, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. Field trials of the additive system have also been done between 2010 and 2013 in the heavy-duty diesel engines of two Finnish shipping company vessels, the planetary gearbox of a grab winch on another Finnish vessel, in the diesel engines of a fleet of 12 trucks and in a rotary screw compressor.

The results of these laboratory and fullscale tests showed evidence of:

Eliminating wear and protecting friction surfaces
Extending the lifetimes of components and lubricants
Increasing the efficiency of combustion engines
Improving ecological parameters
Increasing the efficiency of industrial applications with heavy friction and high temperatures.

For example, in the 12-month full-scale trial in a roll-on, roll-off ferry operated by one of the Finnish shipping companies, fuel consumption was reduced by 4 percent, oil consumption was reduced by 10 percent, there was a significant reduction in engine wear and there was no fouling or clogging of oil filters or separators.

Nanol observes that the additive system does not contain any sulfur or phosphorous and might be a suitable replacement for additives currently used in automotive engine oils.

In October 2013, Ab Nanol Technologies Oy signed a long-term strategic cooperation agreement with ADDINOL Lube Oil GmbH. The first project will be the introduction of new innovative marine engine oil containing the innovative Nanol additive. This product will be marketed under the brand ADDINOL Eco Craft.

It seems that innovative additive chemistry and tribology, described as nanotechnology, is progressing well.

David Whitby is chief executive of Pathmaster Marketing Ltd. in Surrey, England. You can reach him at