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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Perfecting High-Performance, Long-Life Lubricants

March 15, 2002

Imagine driving 10,000 to 12,000 miles between oil changes. That's the goal of two Materials Science and Engineering professors at The University of Texas at Arlington. It's a goal they expect to reach later this year.

"Contrary to popular belief, oil by itself is a limited lubricant'" says Professor Ron Elsenbaumer, who leads both the Materials Science program in the College of Engineering and the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department in the College of Science. "It's the additives in petroleum-based lubricants that make them useful. Otherwise, they lack adhesion and break down easily." Elsenbaumer is teaming with Professor Pranesh Aswath to develop a method of applying thin fluorocarbon coatings to engine surfaces at low-temperatures. "Think of non-stick frying pans," said Aswath. "The difference here is that our coatings don't have to be applied at high temperatures."

In addition to extending operating life of oil, the new lubricants will also reduce pollutants and increase mileage. This is attributable to reduced friction; the use of lighter weight, less viscous oils; and the reduction or absence of phosphorous and sulfur in the oils, which degrade the emissions catalyst and lead to excessive hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions. Another application of the fluorocarbon coatings would be on aircraft surfaces, where reducing friction leads to smoother airflows and fewer de-icing treatments.

The pair's earlier efforts, funded by Dallas-based Platinum Research Organization (PRO), led to an improved grease currently being marketed for heavy-duty applications such as mining operations, drilling rigs and rock crushers. Research Engineer Charles Savage in Chemistry is now assisting Elsenbaumer and Aswath in the second stage of the project. Their research covers the technological aspects of fluorocarbon coatings and the translation of this understanding to the commercial marketplace. The continuing project is being underwritten by PRO and a $235,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.