Revolutionising lubricants

Online Editor

A rapidly changing automotive industry demands high-performance solutions, particularly regarding the lubricants that support vehicle performance and longevity

The auto industry is changing faster than ever. New technologies, new regulatory demands, and evolving consumer preferences have touched off a revolution in the kinds of products being offered and the materials, processes, and business models required to build and support them.

Several trends are creating this urgency. First is the continued drive toward cleaner, more efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) technology. Another is the ongoing substitution of lightweight polymer and composite materials for metal and glass in vehicle bodies, powertrains, and cabins. Yet another, and arguably the most influential of these trends, is the rapid growth of the electrical vehicle (EV) segment. Until recently, EVs were still a niche product, but by 2040 are expected to make up nearly 60% of global new car sales, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

As automakers adopt different materials and technologies to stay relevant and profitable, they also need to revisit the lubricants that have long supported vehicle performance and longevity to ensure their current solutions align with tomorrow’s demands.

Challenges ahead

Lubricants have always been fundamental to vehicle powertrain performance, and their value doesn’t stop there. Lubricants help extend the life of seals, O-rings, and weather stripping, and reduce vehicle noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). Given all that we ask of them, it’s no surprise that some lubricants aren’t quite up to the current automotive challenges.

The first of these is temperature resistance. Many conventional lubricants are simply unsuited to the demands of the new automotive landscape and today’s harsher environments. Most petroleum-based greases begin to degrade at temperatures above 100 °C (212 °F). Synthetic lubricants like diesters, polyalkylene glycols, and polyalphaolefins are likewise vulnerable to degradation. Silicones have a somewhat higher temperature threshold, but lack the stability and performance characteristics required at extreme temperatures.

Second on the list is materials compatibility. With alternatives to glass and metal increasingly part of newer auto design and luxury models, automakers need lubricants that are compatible with a variety of materials. (Some lubricant formulations, for instance, degrade plastics and elastomers.) The right lubricants can harmonize disparate vehicle materials without damaging them, eliminating NVH and delivering the quiet ride today’s consumers demand.

The third challenge is dielectric properties. As a lightweight sealant and insulator, dielectric grease has long been a crucial tool for protecting vehicles’ electric connections against corrosion and heat/water damage. It also reduces the amount of force and friction required to mate electrical connections, increasing their strength and longevity. These qualities are essential in ICEs, and even more so in EVs, with their complex wiring requirements.

Meet the future-ready lubricants

Perfluoropolyether (PFPE) lubricants are a class of synthetic lubricants originally developed for military and aerospace use. Their long-chain polymer structure confers on them excellent thermal and chemical stability, low volatility, and unmatched lubricity, even at extreme temperatures. PFPEs provide excellent lubrication within a wider temperature range (from -70°C to more than 300°C) than most other lubricant types.

PFPE lubricants’ unique chemistry also makes them inert, which helps them protect and maintain mechanical performance even in the presence of highly reactive chemicals. In many cases, warranties on critical vehicle engine parts and structural parts can be extended thanks to the durability of these lubricants. Another cost-saving factor of PFPEs is their “once-and-done” benefit. Less product is required, and performance is long-lasting, eliminating the need for relubrication. Moreover, PFPE lubricants exhibit excellent compatibility with a variety of plastics and elastomers. They are nonflammable and have low toxicity.

PFPE lubricants provide numerous benefits in a variety of automotive applications, including extreme temperature performance. PFPE lubricants maintain their lubricity from -73°C to greater than 360°C (-99°F to 680°F), depending upon operating conditions and product grade. Regarding inertness, PFPE lubricants won’t harm painted surfaces, plastics, or elastomers. They are compatible with nearly every material they might contact and resist migration.

Additionally, PFPE lubricants offer chemical stability, withstanding exposure to fuels, coolants, brake fluid, engine oil, washer solvent, and even battery acid for dependable long-term performance. PFPE lubricants also deliver outstanding dielectric properties, due to the fact they are excellent insulators and have become the lubricant of choice for many automotive electrical applications.

The one constant

Whatever the changes ahead for automotive technology, one constant remains: the importance of premium lubricants for delivering the performance and reliability OEMs stake their reputations on. The right choice in lubricants can help maintain the expected levels of safety, efficiency, reliability, and comfort in advanced auto designs—both today and for the road ahead.

Rebecca Vieira PhD is Global Technology Manager – Lubricants at The Chemours Company