Adding nanomaterials to improve lubricants

The quest for an environmentally friendly substitute to oil-based lubricants has led a University of Queensland team to investigate nano-additive water-based alternatives.

Anshun He using ANFF-Q’s Bruker Dektak XT stylus profiler to measure the depth and surface roughness of wear marks. Credit: Anshun He

The use of nanomaterials in a water-based solution opens the door to tailored, environmentally friendly lubricants with parameters that can be modified to meet the requirements of a particular application.

The group, led by Professor Han Huang, a researcher at UQ, investigated both zero dimensional (0D) aluminium oxide nanoparticles and two dimensional (2D) graphene oxide sheets as additives.

When these novel lubricants were investigated for their effects on friction and wear, it was found that the lubricating mechanisms were directly related to the intrinsic properties of the nano-additives.

The team’s analysis revealed that the aluminium oxide particles create an anti-frictional thin film on the surface of a material and demonstrated strong anti-wear characteristics, meaning they could operate as a lubricant for an extended period of time. For the graphene oxide sheets, it was sliding of the individual layers on top of one another that helped to ease friction. Initial characterisation of the lubricants was conducted at ANFF-Q.

The lubricants were then tested by analysing their effect on the wear of two surfaces rubbing together. After testing, the worn surfaces were examined using instruments at ANFF-Q, including the Node’s stylus profiler and confocal microscope to determine the depth and surface roughness of the wear marks.

“Our research leads to deeper understanding on the behaviour of nanostructures in water-based lubricants during mechanical movements involving friction and wear,” Han said. “The research results opened the door to meet the demands of replacing oil-based lubricants with environmental compatible and economical water-based ones in broad manufacturing industries.”

The team are now investigating the potential of other nanomaterials. The researchers will be focusing on combining both 0D-2D to see if both types can work together. By expanding the work to include a range of 0D and 2D materials, the team hope to build a library of additives to suit any application.