The lubricant sector is keen to embrace new technology and apply it in product applications where it makes economic and environmental sense—and one area of particular excitement is nanotechnology.
Nanomaterials possess specific properties at the nanometer length scale, roughly 1 to 100 nm, explains Mark T. Swihart, executive director of New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.
These could be colloids or powders of individual particles in that size range, but could also be larger materials with pores or other key property-determining features at the nanometer-length scale. Nanotechnology is the practical application of these properties and physico-chemical effects that arise from nanometer-scale features.
Today, applications range from microelectronic circuits to nanocapsule formulations of existing drugs and lubrication. Nanoparticles of zinc, titanium dioxide, graphite, silver and even diamonds can reduce wear and friction.
These materials have different properties within a lubricant, suggests Swihart. Although not all functions are yet understood, graphite (or graphene) nanoplatelets have low surface energy, which would provide lubrication by a sliding mechanism. A hard material like nanodiamonds, or a quasi-spherical material like fullerenes (buckyballs) or inorganic fullerene analogs, would more likely work by a rolling mechanism.
Materials like zinc and silver can also interact chemically with other components of the lubricant, and may prevent degradation of other components of the lubricant.