Public Release: 

Ceramic Lubricants, Ashless Fuel Additives Developed At Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 13, 1996 -- A Virginia Tech researcher's work on a new concept in lubrication (patent # 5,407,601 April 18, 1995) has resulted in several compounds that promise to save billions of dollars in fuel, and that have now been licensed for further development by Triad Investors Corp., a technology development organization with offices in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

Michael Furey, professor of mechanical engineering, and Czeslaw Kajdas of the Warsaw University of Technology, Institute of Chemistry, Poland, received more than $130,000 from Triad to support further development and commercialization of lubrication technology based on their concept of tribopolymerization. Tribopolymerization is the planned and continuous formation of protective polymeric films directly on rubbing surfaces by the use of molecules called monomers that are capable of linking with other molecules to form the polymer films "in situ."

Due to the high surface temperatures in regions of contact and, possibly, emission of charged particles, very thin polymeric films will form in localized areas of greatest wear. In research supported by the National Science Foundation, Furey has shown that compounds developed on the basis of the tribopolymerization reduce wear and friction for ceramics (e.g., alumina, zirconia, silicon nitride) as well as steel when used in minor concentrations in a hydrocarbon carrier fluid or gas. In the liquid phase, wear reductions of 40-50 percent were obtained. In the vapor phase (i.e., in nitrogen), wear reductions with ceramics of up to 99 percent and friction reductions of 40-50 percent were observed-the beneficial effects of the additives being more pronounced at higher temperatures.

The U. S. Government's Energy-Related Inventions Program-a joint program of the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology-selected this invention as one of 12 from over 600 applications for further support. Their evaluation concluded that tribopolymerization could be an enabling technology for the development of high temperature engines. It has been estimated, for example, that if such low heat-loss engines were used in diesel trucks, the annual fuel saving would exceed $5 billion in the U.S. alone. To further develop this technology and its applications, Triad is supporting efforts in three areas:

  • "Novel fuel lubricity additives for two-stoke engines" ($29,303);
  • "Vapor-phase lubrication of metals and ceramics at high temperatures by tribopolymerization" ($66,865);
  • "Tribopolymerization as a novel method of lubricating ceramic machining/cutting tools" ($35,265).

These compounds reduce ceramic tool wear as well as friction in cutting high alloy steels - thus leading to a savings in reduced down time and tool cost as well as in energy. With the support of Triad, other applications of this technology are also being explored, including diesel fuel lubricity - a problem of increasing concern since cleaner low-sulfur fuels have poor lubrication characteristics, leading to excessive fuel pump and injector wear. Since the Furey and Kajdas additives are ashless and biodegradable, they are ideal for fuel applications.

Says Stefan Strein of Triad, "We believe that the tribopolymerization technology will find use in a wide variety of applications, particularly where ashless, biodegradable, effective antiwear/antifriction compounds are needed."

The collaborative effort between Furey and Kajdas has been continuous over the past several years. Kajdas has returned to Virginia Tech for each of the last 10 years; and Furey has visited Kajdas and other Polish researchers six times, including recent discussions at four cities in Poland in January. Kajdas will return to Virginia Tech for the month of February as well as the summer. Doug Patterson of Rochester, New York, completed his master's thesis work on the fuel lubricity problem. David Ford, an undergraduate, will continue the work this semester. Further studies on the machining applications will be carried out by undergraduates Wilburt Thurston and Erica Ergenbright, working with Furey.

The properties were licensed from Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. Triad's investment funds prototype development in Virginia Tech's labs. Triad will use the prototypes to market the technologies.


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