Lubricants are used virtually in most machines. The refrigerator compressors, plane thrusters, engine gears, and wind turbines all depend on lubricants to work properly. There is a countless number of crucial agricultural equipment, transportation vessels, industrial machinery and home appliances that rely on lubricants for their proper functioning. The liquid substance, lubricant, that is needed to keep moving parts of machinery turning smoothly, affect many areas of our lives in the modern era.
However, regardless of how valuable they are to our lives, their impact on our environment won’t go unnoticed in some circumstances where they tend to have some negative effects. Oils, greases, common lubricants and emollients usually contain petroleum, minerals, and base oils up to as much as 90% by weight. For the high volatility of these mineral base oils, they are prone to thicken fast, meaning lubricants require replacements most times, creating some form of waste. The oil spills on the roads and fumes from engines are some of the hazards we can associate with the base oils.
Artificial base oils are vital to the efficiency of lubricants due to their superior lubrication characteristics, stability and how they are more suited for harsh temperatures when placed side by side with their common mineral-base oil counterparts. Regrettably, mineral-base oil is harder to customize its structure and often too costly. Owing to this dearth in its tunable properties, there is need to mix the base oils with additives that are quite expensive to enhance the environmental footprint of the lubricants.
Currently, the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI) led by scientists from the University of Delaware and investigators from affiliate institutions are doing all they can to bring solutions to all these problems. Their discoveries came up with a report on an approach to make base oils from renewable lubricants efficiently from products such as wood, sustainable organic wastes, and switchgrass which are all non-food biomass products. Others include fatty acids that are found in already used vegetable oils and fat from animals.
The publication of the group is available in the latest release of Science Advances. An international patent request has been sent to protect the intellectual property rights on their innovative techniques. Synthesized base oils are appropriate for a variety of applications without needing high quality of additives in the formula of the lubrication.
A team has offered a new versatile and efficient catalytic reaction channel for the creation of renewable lubricants with tunable characteristics. There is a hope that the technique will finally replace the old manufacturing development for some of the lubricants of today and reduce environmental carbon footprint. Though there is a room for optimism, however, that all is not done yet, there are still some hurdles to overcome, a long way still lies ahead to go.
Innovation drives the world. Scientists are applying the same principle to synthesize base oil by using a technique that utilizes abundant materials that we see all around. Their discovery is a step forward in harnessing the abundant natural resources to solve man’s problems while still protecting the environment, making it a better place for all to live.
Further information: Sibao Liu et al. Renewable lubricants with tailored molecular architecture, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav5487