Fighting friction with chemistry and innovation

Paul Boughton

In today’s world, nanotechnology can be employed to reduce friction in everything from cosmetics to paint, or steel and even toothpaste. It is also used in the oil and lubrication businesses. But how can microscopic particles help reduce fossil-fuel use and extend the life of components for some of the heaviest and largest machines – used in shipping, railways, marine engineering, mining, and heavy industry?

Adding particles measuring between one and 100 nanometres across to oil, grease and lubricants has created a fiercely competitive business, with hundreds of companies claiming to revolutionise the effects of wear and tear. Despite some progress in the field, much of the existing technology to reduce friction and boost wear protection doesn’t get beyond the test-tube or the lab. 

Nevertheless, equipment operators and fleet managers, who work with machinery, are always keen to have higher performing lubricants that can cut maintenance, fuel and operating costs. 

Nanol Technologies, based in Finland, is combining chemistry, nanotechnology and 30 years of fundamental research, in a new start-up culture, to produce commercial lube additives that are supported by the most stringent research and exhaustive testing.

The products contain additives that can reduce the wear of surfaces by creating a nano-thin protective layer of copper ions. This reduces wear and extends the lifetime of components and the lubricants, reducing fossil-fuel usage. However, through some clever engineering and science, the products work by actually using the surface activation caused by friction.

The company was founded four years ago in Helsinki, among a vibrant start-up community, alongside others from the music, gaming and life-science industries. But the Nanol Technologies approach, solid research, expertise and steady growth, led to the firm becoming the hottest start-up in Finland earlier this year, ranked number one out of more than 700 other start-ups.

The approach of combining an entrepreneurial working culture and chemistry expertise seems to be delivering results and the company already has sales offices in Finland, Germany and Russia. Production is outsourced to Harjavalta, West Finland, to a Finnish speciality chemicals producer, CrisolteQ, a pioneer in recovering and recycling valuable elements and metals for the chemical industry. Nanol and CrisolteQ work together as strategic partners, which is essential in this business, in order for small and medium-sized enterprises to challenge the market. 

Nanol Technologies has secured new funding and some of the world’s best chemists, researchers and oil additive experts are helping to develop materials which push the boundaries in reducing wear, lowering costs and improving efficiency. 

Dr. Aubrey Burrows, the company’s senior advisor, has more than 30 years’ experience in the oil industry, and has focussed much of his career on energy efficiency and long-life lubricants. He explains: “The Nanol products are unique and different in terms of chemistry and how they function.”