Graphene first paves the way for superlubricity

Development of Europe's first graphene-based engine lubricant heralds the next generation of superlubricating products.

After previously reporting on the search for the lubricant industry's 'holy grail', OATS can now reveal that the search, at least in part, may be over.  The quest for superlubricity - the absolute minimalisation of sliding friction through lubrication - has been top of lube developers' agenda for many years. 

Research within the past 10 years has demonstrated that superlubricity is achievable using materials such as graphite, graphene, silicon and carbon film, but only under strictly controlled laboratory conditions.  Now, a major breakthrough has been announced by Graphene-XT Italy, partner company of the one billion Euro, European Commission Graphene Flagship Consortium.

Graphene as a material has potentially revolutionary properties including: strength 200 times greater than steel; electrical conductivity 60% higher than metal; thermal conductivity five times greater than copper and a very high surface area of 2,600 m2/g which can provide an excellent barrier against chemicals and gasses.

Graphene-XT formulated graphene-enabled lubricating additives which provides a layered structure using the carbon-based, single-atom element which offers superlubricity.  Once developed in the lab, the lubricant was added to a motocross motorcycle engine which is usually high-revving and subject to significant stop-start stress.  According to the company's Annual Report, the motorcycle was then ridden on a motocross circuit, with the rider reporting "less noise and better performance."

Commenting on the results, Graphene-XT CEO, Simone Ligi said: "The motocross engine is under a lot of stress. It needs a lot of maintenance, and sometimes requires an oil change as frequently as every three hours. This was a really hard test for graphene, but it clearly shows our product works." 

With initial tests completed, Graphene-XT's additive is being evaluated across other vehicles including cars and light trucks. While claiming this as a European first, they are not alone in this area of lubricant development. With many of the oil majors exploring the use of graphene and other nano lubricants - some already achieving 10-20% reductions in friction - it is only a matter of time before the holy grail of superlubricating, graphene-based products becomes a commercial reality.