What are Fire Resistant Lubricants?

Fire-resistant lubricants are fluids that are used in applications and systems where the risk of ignition is high. Typically, these environments are near or contain: open flames, sparks, or hot metals. If an oil leak were to occur, the risk of injury, damage, and even death is magnified as sustained fires can occur. That is why fire-resistant lubricants have been developed and manufactured to protect personnel and equipment.

Why do I need a Fire-Resistant Lubricant?

Fire-resistant lubricants are most needed in environments need high-temperature surfaces and open flames. Regular fluids that have low flash points pose the greatest risks to fire and should be switched for fire-resistant lubricants that have higher flash points.

If using pressurized hydraulic lines, it is key to have a fluid with a high flash point as small leaks can aerosolize the lubricant easily. The lubricant spray is much more susceptible to fire. It takes much less heat to ignite and can spread to fluid reservoirs. The lubricant can ignite if it’s fire point and/or auto-ignition point is reached. The fire point is the temperature at which a fire is sustained and is typically several (50+) degrees higher than the flash point. Opting for fire-resistant fluids with higher flash points will reduce the risk of fire and damage.

Fire-Resistance Fluid Standards

The term “Fire Resistant” and “Fire Resistance” are often misinterpreted and sometimes overused. There is no single property or metric that conveys relative fire resistance. Metrics like flash point, fire point, and autoignition temperature are useful, but do not tell the whole story. Because of this, most fluids are vigorously tested and are classified as “fire resistant” if it can pass various tests and simulations.

The Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FM) developed key benchmarks for testing fire-resistance. FM tests every single commercially available “Fire Resistant” fluid to ensure it meets various benchmarks. FM 6930 is the standard for hydraulic fluids and is classified into 3 levels: 0, 1, and 2. This standard only measures a fluid’s flammability and does not consider other factors of the lubricant.

The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) has their own tests and standards for underground mines and applications. Their stringent testing produces more failures than FM. Both programs has strict auditing and inspection programs to ensure fire-resistant fluids meet performance standards.

Types of Fire-Resistant Lubricants

Oil-Water Emulsions

There are 2 types of oil-water emulsion fluids: oil-in-water and water-in-oil. Oil-in-water emulsions are formulated with oil droplets sustained in water. Approximately 95% of the fluid is made of water and the remaining 5% is composed of oil. These emulsions have excellent fire resistance and heat-transfer capabilities, but poor lubricity and poor corrosion protection.

Due to these poor lubricity characteristics, water-in-oil emulsions (also known as inverse emulsions) are better performing fluids. These are 40% water and 60% oil. It provides more balance of heat-transfer properties, lubricity, and corrosion protection. The fire-resistance primarily comes from the water, which turns into steam and reduces the oil’s combustibility.

Water Glycols

Water-in-oil emulsions have seen declining market share due to the rise of Water Glycol Fluids. Water Glycols contain 35-45% water and the remaining contents are some sort of glycol, such as ethylene glycol. These Water Glycols offer some benefits such as a lower freezing point and excellent fire resistance. Water Glycols do have drawbacks, but many of these can be mitigated by various additive packages. These fluids can be used in a variety of applications, but speed and strength ratings are reduced due to the limited performance of the fluid. Despite this, Water Glycols are one of the most popular fire resistance lubricants on the market today.

Phosphate Esters

Phosphate Esters provide the best fire resistance properties of any fluid. This is due to their natural molecular structure. They are non-corrosive, have excellent oxidative stability, great anti-wear characteristics, and are suitable for use up to 150 C. Despite this, they have been losing popularity due to stringent compatibility and maintenance concerns. They are still popular for aircraft and military applications. Additionally, they require special seals and coatings and require special care during disposal.

Polyol Esters

Polyol ester fluids have gained popularity due to its fire resistance properties, excellent lubricity, and good viscosity stability across different temperatures. These contain additive packages to impart good performance and high thermal properties. These are much more compatible and versatile than phosphate esters. This has led to their rising popularity and market share in recent years.

Maintenance and Other Considerations

When switching to fire-resistant fluids, compatibility must be considered before restarting the equipment. By carefully draining the machine, this decreases the likelihood of any incompatibility issues.

High-water content fluids require a lot more maintenance and care to ensure they perform properly. Water provides a great medium for bacteria and biocide treatments are recommended to prevent bacteria growth. As temperatures rise, water evaporates and needs to be replaced to ensure the fluids cooling properties are not compromised. pH levels should be monitored along with corrosiveness and wear protection. It is important to follow proper storage practices to maximize efficacy and shelf life.

Like any other oils, fire-resistant fluids degrade in heat and reduce oxidative stability. It is important to note rotating pressure vessel oxidation test (RPVOT) values to ensure your fluid has enough oxidative stability.

Conclusion

Fire-resistant fluids are great options for equipment and environments that are susceptible to fires. If you have high-pressure machines, it is imperative to consider fire-resistant fluids to prevent potential sprays that can ignite. Twin Specialties offers both water glycols and polyol esters to meet your needs. Contact Twin Specialties for product information.

How to Select the Right Grease

Selecting a grease or lubricant is one of the most crucial decisions you make in regards to any machine. Your selection might make the difference between cost savings, reduced downtime, or significant unexpected costs and failures. For oil lubricants, many OEMs specify what product or what type of product is recommended for each component of their equipment. This simplifies the selection process. However, OEM grease specifications are much broader. Most of the time OEMs simply recommend the National Lubrication Grease Institute (NLGI) specification.

This presents both flexibility and options, but also introduces more room erroneous decision-making and poor lubrication. Simply using the NLGI grade is not enough. You have to look at other factors to ensure you grease and machine work properly and does not fail. We will look at some key factors that every operator needs to consider.

Base Oil Viscosity

A grease is composed of 3 ingredients: thickener, oil, and additives. The NLGI number indicates the thickness of the thickener, but does not specify the viscosity of the thickened base oil. The underlying base oil has its own viscosity just like any lubrication oil. If a piece of a equipment calls for a certain lubricating oil with a specific viscosity, it is easy to find a grease that has the same base oil viscosity and similar additive package.

If viscosity requirements are not specified, you can use the chart below (courtesy of ExxonMobil and Noria).

The two factors required are operating temperature and DN or NDm, which are the bearing speed factors. To calculate those speed factors, simply use the following formula:

  • DN = (rpm)*(bearing bore) and
  • NDm = (rpm)*((bearing bore + outside diameter) / 2)

The intersection of DN and Temperature will point you towards the required ISO viscosity. This chart assumes viscosity index.

Base Oil Type and Additives

Once a viscosity is identified, you need to figure out what additives and base oil you need. Similar to oil lubricants you must assess your operations and figure what additives are necessary or unnecessary. For example, light loads and high-speed applications do not require a grease with extreme pressure (EP) additives, but a heavily loaded application will need those EP additives. The chart below breaks down the needed additives for various bearings.

Courtesy of Noria

Most greases use mineral oil and only require mineral oil. However, synthetic base oils are recommended for certain extreme temperature applications. Applications with low or high operating temperatures or a wide range of temperatures, a synthetic base oil is recommended. Synthetic base oil greases are also recommended for users who want to longer regreasing intervals.

Grease Thickener

Unlike lubricating oils, greases include thickeners. The two factors that distinguish grease are type and consistency. As mentioned earlier, consistency is based on the NLGI scale. The scale ranges from 000 (most fluid) to 6 (least fluid). The most common and most recommended NLGI grade is #2. Most OEMs specify the NLGI grade and matching that number is a simple process (especially if you require a NLGI 2 grease).

The other factor for thickeners is the type of thickener. The differences between each type of thickener are present pros and cons for each application. The most common types are lithium soap, lithium complex, and polyurea. Lithium soap greases are low-cost general-purpose grease and perform well in general applications. Lithium complex is similar to lithium soap, but is preferred for applications with higher operating temperatures. Polyurea greases have good high-temperature properties and have high oxidation stability and bleed resistance. When switching greases, it is important to understand thickener compatibility to make sure the new grease does not fail.

Cost and Other Considerations

When purchasing a grease, a basic lithium grease will be cheaper than a sophisticated polyurea grease. It is up to you to determine the tradeoffs between grease costs and performance gains/losses. Purchasing a higher quality grease may lead to longer regreasing intervals and less machine failure.

To save costs, consolidating greases may be wise, but be wary of over-consolidation. This may result in some machines not using an appropriate grease.

Other attributes should be considered depending on the application. Some grease exclusive attributes include:

  • Drop Point
  • Mechanical Stability
  • Water Washout
  • Bleed Characteristics
  • Pumpability

Certain attributes are focused specifically on heavy loads and should be considered for heavy load-low speed applications. These include:

  • Four-Ball Tests
  • Timken OK Load

Additionally, industry specific requirements will also dictate grease selection. These industries have strict requirements and require greases to be certified by certain 3rd-party regulators:

Conclusion

Unlike oils, greases have many more factors for product selection. These factors should be considered for each application as each grease is designed and manufacturer specifically for each application and have a delicate balance of thickener, oil, and additives.

Twin Specialties carries a wide variety of greases to meet you application needs. We work directly with you to make sure we provide the right product that delivers performance while being mindful of the total cost of grease and maintenance. Contact Twin Specialties to learn more about our grease product lines.

Lubricants for Cold Weather

During the winter months and in cold weather regions, operators will face cold starts regularly and must select lubricants that ensure proper performance and protect your machine or engine. We will focus on key features that will differentiate lubricants that excel in cold weather and lubricants that will lead to machine or engine failure.

Viscosity

Not all cold starts are equal. There are varying temperatures and the lubricant you need will depend on the ambient temperature. If temperatures are below -20 C/- 4 F, it is recommended to use base oils that can flow in low temperatures. For engine oils, using an SAE 0W or SAW 5W grade lubricant is recommended. When the temperature drops below -30 C/- 22 F, operators should use a SAE 0W or SAE 5W lubricant, but whose base oil is a synthetic base stock and/or a base oil that is considered “multi-grade” or “multi-viscosity.”

Many of these multi-viscosity and multi-grade lubricants are designed for extreme weather conditions including cold start conditions. These lubricants maintain their viscosity better than conventional lubricants. Generally, multi-viscosity lubricants exhibit viscosity characteristics found in 2 different ISO viscosity grades (i.e. ISO 32-46) and multi-grade lubricants exhibit viscosity characteristics found in 3 different ISO viscosity grades (i.e. ISO 32-46-68).

Viscosity Index

When the temperature drops, the lubricant becomes more viscous, thus making it more difficult to circulate and flow through the engine or machine. Having a lubricant with a high viscosity index, defined as a viscosity index greater than 130, ensures that your lubricant better maintains its viscosity in extreme temperatures. Lubricants with high viscosity indices have either a highly refined or synthetic base stock or include viscosity index improver additives.

Monograde lubricants will have viscosity indices in the 95-105 range and will not perform as well as in cold start conditions. Many operators will use different monograde lubricants depending on the ambient temperature. This may cause issues with change outs and cold temperature properties.

Pour Point

As mentioned earlier, not all cold starts are created equal. In colder temperatures, a lubricant’s pour point could be the difference between success and failure. Pour point is defined as when a lubricant no longer flows and congeals. When operating in temperatures below -30 C/-22 F, it is imperative to use a lubricant with a pour point lower than -50 C/-58 F. Similar to viscosity index, lubricants with highly refined or synthetic base stocks have lower pour points. Some lubricants are manufactured with pour point depressants that prevent wax formation and the congealing of the lubricant.

Oil Integrity and Storage

While you can meticulously select the perfect lubricant based on your OEM requirements, ambient climate, and budget, it could be costly if you do not maintain it properly. Just like any oil, it is important to regularly check the oil for cleanliness and contamination. Taking regular samples is key to ensure your lubricant and machine is in good health. When storing lubricants. It is helpful to store the lubricant indoors or in a warmer environment so that it flows easily during start-up. Proper storage will also protect against contamination. If contaminated, the additives such as VI improvers or pour point depressants may not be as effective and could hurt lubricant performance.

A Guide to Base Oil Groups

In any oil-based lubricant the base oil will compose 80-99% of the product you use. What are differences in the main ingredient of your lubricant? The American Petroleum Institute classifies base oils into 5 groups. These classifications are based on the chemical composition of the base oil and the treatment of the base oil.

If a base oil is classified as Group I-III, that base oil will be composed of crude oil that has been treated. The differences depend on the treatment processes applied to the oil.

Petroleum Base Oils

Group I

Group I base oils are the least refined base oil. Two main characteristics of Group I base oils are that they are composed of less than 90% saturates and/or greater than 0.03% sulfur. If either of these conditions are satisfied, then the base oil will be classified as Group I. The only process that is used is solvent refining, which allows Group I base oil products to be cheaper than their more refined equivalents. These are generally used for less-demanding applications and could be ideal for applications where lubricant consumption is high.

Group II

Group II base oils are more refined than Group I. In addition to solvent refining, these oils are also hydrocracked purify the oil. Unlike Group I base oils, these base oils must contain over 90% saturates and less than 0.03%. The greater percentage of saturates gives these lubricants better antioxidation properties than Group I base oils.

Failure to meet either of these requirements will result in a Group I classification. These products also have a viscosity index of 80-120. These oils have good performance in volatility, oxidation stability, wear prevention, and flash point. They only have fair performance in cold temperature environments. Given costs of treatment today, Group II lubricants are most commonly used today and many users have switched from Group I oils to Group II oils.

Unofficially, there is a Group II+ that are composed of high-end Group II base oils. These base oils must have a viscosity index of 110-120 to be considered Group II+.

Group III

Group II base oils must meet the same conditions (saturates and sulfur) as Group II, but also must have a viscosity index greater than 120. These base oils are severely hydrocracked, hydroisomerized, and hydrotreated to crate the best grade of petroleum base oil. These products offer superior stability and molecular uniformity, which makes them ideal for some semi-synthetic lubricants.

Some people consider Group III base oils to be synthetic. The API classifies them as mineral oil since they are derived from crude oil. They do mimic characteristics of synthetic oils including high viscosity indices. A lawsuit between Mobil and Castrol occurred due to Castrol marketing their Syntec lubricant as a synthetic even though it was composed of Group III base oils. In a 1999 ruling, the product was allowed to marketed as a synthetic.

Many people reject the decision and only consider Group IV and Group V base stocks as “synthetic.” Some Group III lubricants outperform Group IV lubricants if they contain excellent anti-wear, anti-oxidant, and other additives. Similar to Group II, Group III base oils have an unofficial Group III+, which consist of Group III oils that have a “Very High Viscosity Index (VHVI).” The VHVI minimum is anywhere between 130-140.

Synthetic Base Oils

Group IV

Group IV base oils are synthetic base oils that composed of polyalphaolefins (PAOs). These products have a viscosity index of 125-200. These base oils are not extracted from crude oil, but made from small uniform molecules. The uniformity and manufacturing of these oils allows for predictable properties that assure performance in tough conditions. These properties include extreme temperature stability, which makes these products ideal for cold and hot weather climates.

Lubricants composed of polyinternalolefins (PIOs) are considered to be in the unofficial Group VI. Similar to PAOs, PIOs use different chemicals in its synthesis process to obtain an even higher viscosity index. Their official API classification would be Group V. Certain food grade lubricants are composed of Group IV PAOs.

Group V

Group V base oils are any base oil that is not classified as a Group I-IV base oil. Common Group V base oils are polyalkylene glycols (PAGs) and various esters. One exception is white oil, which is a very pure lubricant commonly used in cosmetics and food processing. Also used in food grade lubricants, Group V base oils such as PAGs or esters can be used in certain biodegradable base stocks rather than vegetable or seed oils. It is important to note that most PAGs are only compatible with other PAGs.

Key Takeaways

When selecting a lubricant, it is important to understand what base oil is used. Given that the base oil is 80-99% of a lubricant, you should know what base oil you are using. Upgrading the Group III or Group IV could improve performance and reduce consumption. Twin Specialties offers a variety of industrial and specialty lubricants made from a variety of base stocks to meet your operating and budgetary requirements.

Pros & Cons of Biodegradable Lubricants

In the next installment of our Biodegradable Lubricants series we examine the pros and cons of biodegradable lubricants. How do these lubricants compare to their petroleum-based counterparts? Previously we examined: biodegradability standards, biodegradable base stocks and biodegradable lubricant products. However, are these products right for you? We will look at some pros and cons to see if biodegradable lubricants are the right choice for you.

Pros of Biodegradable Lubricants

  • Excellent lubricity; superior to that of mineral oil
  • Higher viscosity index than mineral and synthetic oils
  • Higher flash point than mineral and synthetic oils
  • Less toxic and readily biodegradable
  • Renewable and reduce dependency on imported petroleum
  • New biotechnology has produced genetically-modified seeds designed for use in lubricants
  • Metal-wetting attraction makes them good for keeping dirt and debris off metal surfaces
  • Water-soluble PAGs are ideal for fire-resistant lubricants
  • Ideal for industries and applications where oil comes in contact with the environment
  • No potential for bioaccumulation (build-up in organism fatty tissue)
  • Price premiums are expected to decline with further market development

Cons of Biodegradable Lubricants

  • Lubricity so potent, friction modifiers must be added to reduce slippage in certain applications
  • Insufficient oxidative stability; oil must be treated or modified to ensure performance (which increase costs)
  • Small amounts of water can cause serious foaming and degradation
  • Cannot withstand high reservoir temperatures (usually greater than 80 C)
  • Vegetable base stocks must be hydrogenated to combat low oxidative stability
  • Low pour point; can be improved by winterization
  • Synthetic esters can be used for cold-temperature environments, but reduce bio-based properties
  • Synthetic oils are limited to which additives they can use due to biodegradability standards
  • PAGs can emulsify water, which can cause foaming, sludge, and corrosion
  • High price premiums for synthetic-based products

Conclusion

Biodegradable lubricants have significant potential to perform better than mineral oils. Developments in biotechnology could allow for specially formulated base oils that will address the current short comings of vegetable oils. As demand increases, price premiums will decrease and the we will become less dependent on petroleum. Synthetic oils already provide superior performance, albeit at a higher cost. Environmental concerns will drive these developments and shift the lubricant market towards biodegradable and environmentally accepted lubricants. To learn more, check out this EPA report on Environmentally Accepted Lubricants (EALs).

Twin Specialties Offers Biodegradable Lubricants

No matter your application or environmental requirements, Twin Specialties can meet your manufacturing, marine, or agricultural needs. We offer a variety of lubricants including: Shell Naturelle, Castrol Performance Bio, and various Food Grade lubricants. Contact Twin Specialties for a quote.

What is Moly?

What is Moly?

Molybdenum Disulfide, simply known as Moly, is used both independently as a dry lubricant and as an additive in lubricating greases. Dry lubricants reduce friction between two sliding surfaces without the need for an oil medium. Dry lubricant molecules have a natural attraction to metal and adhere themselves to metal surfaces. These molecules create a layer of protection that prevents wear and tear as well as significantly improve lubricity of metallic surfaces.

How Does Moly Work?

When used on its own, Moly is impregnated into the surfaces of metal parts to improve the lubricity and protect the parts themselves. When used in greases and lubricants, the Moly attracts itself to the metal surfaces as an anti-wear surface coating. When used in lubricants, Moly’s efficacy is limited if the additive remains suspended. It is important to ensure that the Moly is compatible with the oil or grease. If it is not compatible, the compounds could drop out and plug oil passages and filters.

Moly has a variety of unique properties that distinguish itself from other solid lubricants and solid additives. These include:

  • An inherently low coefficient of friction
  • Strong affinity for metallic surfaces
  • Film forming structure
  • Stability in the presence of most solvents
  • Effective lubricating properties from cryogenic temperatures to 350 C in air
  • Efficacy in vacuum and aerospace applications

Moly Greases

Moly greases can have concentrations from anywhere from 1 to 20%. Typically, Moly greases typically contain 3 to 5% Moly. Moly greases are generally used in operations where high pressure metal surfaces are sliding against each other. These include roller bearings that have very heavy loads and shock loading. Moly greases are also recommended in slow or oscillating motion that is used in universal and CV joints. Moly greases used in high-speed bearings can create problems such as “skidding,” where a bearing roller fails to rotate a full 360 degrees.

Due to its lubricating abilities in vacuums, Moly and Moly greases are popular in aerospace applications. Temperature limitations for Moly are much higher in space (1200 C compared to 350 C in air) thus can withstand extreme temperatures in space. Moly is used for low speed systems such as solar array drives, sensors, and antenna scanners.

Conclusion

As a solid lubricant, Molybdenum disulfide (Moly) serves as a better lubricant and additive than graphite because of its ability to operate under very heavy loads and in vacuum environments. If your machine’s manual calls for a moly grease, it is important to ensure a moly grease is used and the moly grease is compatible with other lubricants in your equipment.

What are Biodegradable Lubricants?

As the world’s petroleum reserves are extracted, scarcity increases, thus driving oil and lubricant prices higher. This economic burden will force end-users and manufacturers to develop alternatives that are cost effective, readily available, and sustainable. The answer to these concerns are biodegradable lubricants.

Biodegradable Lubricants Defined

Biodegradable lubricants have the ability to degrade naturally by the actions of biological organisms. Petroleum is naturally occurring and is considered inherently biodegradable. However, that does not mean they can be marketed, sold, and treated as biodegradable. When we refer to biodegradable lubricants, we are discussing lubricants that are readily biodegradable.

Determining Biodegradability

Biodegradable lubricants must meet the ISO 9439 or OECD 301B standards. These standards state that a lubricant that has degraded by more than 60% within 28 days is readily biodegradable. The tests involve treating a lubricant sample with microorganisms in the presence of oxygen and measuring the CO2 produced by the microorganisms. As mentioned before, petroleum-based lubricants are inherently biodegradable, but not readily biodegradable because they fail to meet these standards. Petroleum-based lubricants naturally degrade at a rate of 15-35% in 28 days, falling short of the required 60%.

Additionally, the lubricant must be of “low toxicity.” There are a variety of tests used to determine toxicity. These tests involve fish, daphnia, and other organisms. In their pure form, mineral oil and vegetable oil show little toxicity, but lubricants are not just pure oil. As additives are incorporated into formulations, the toxicity increases. Additives are added to make up for any performance shortcomings of biodegradable base stocks.

Types of Biodegradable Base Stocks

Most biodegradable lubricants use vegetable oil, synthetic esters, polyalkylene glycols (PAGs), or a combination of these as base stocks. Vegetable oils have been used for years when petroleum was in short supply. They were popular during World War I and World War II due to oil rationing and came back in popularity during oil embargo in the 1970s. Vegetable oils declined in popularity due to the availability of low-cost oil after Desert Storm. Their popularity is beginning to rise as more manufacturers and end-users are faced with climate change and sustainability concerns. Some common vegetable oils used are soybean oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil. To improve performance, farmers are beginning to grow genetically modified crops that are designed and engineered for use in lubricants.

Synthetic base stocks, such as esters and PAGs, are also used to boost performance when vegetable oils cannot get the job done. PAGs are effective, however they have a few issues that should be considered. PAGs are incompatible with other oils and can cause problems if inadvertently mixed with non-PAG oils. PAGs can also react poorly with seals and paints. This is why synthetic esters are preferred for biodegradable lubricants. Synthetic esters are typically added to vegetable-oil based lubricants to improve low temperature properties. These serve better than light mineral oils as synthetic esters are less toxic and more biodegradable.

Biodegradable Lubricant Products

Many applications and machines now can be lubricated with biodegradable lubricants and meet all performance requirements. Products that can be composed of soybean oils include:

  • Food grade hydraulic fluids and greases
  • Automotive, railroad, and machine greases
  • Tractor transmission and industrial hydraulic fluids
  • Chainsaw bar oils
  • Gear lubricants
  • Compressor oils
  • Transmission and transformer line cooling fluids

Many more products are in development and could become viable in lubricant markets soon. These include:

  • Two-cycle engine oils
  • Metalworking fluids
  • Specialty lubricants

With more resources and demand for biodegradable lubricants, engineers and manufacturers can research and develop more products that perform more applications, perform better than mineral oils, and remain price competitive.

Biodegradable lubricants are highly popular in applications and industries where environmental and safety concerns are high. Marine and agricultural industries need these lubricants as contamination could have devastating effects. According to Total Lubricants, a single liter of oil can pollute as much as 1,000,000 liters of water. In those applications, biodegradable lubricants are essential. Some government regulations ensure that these industries use biodegradable lubricants that do not harm consumers and operators in the event of leakage.

Twin Specialties Offers Biodegradable Lubricants

No matter your application or environmental requirements, Twin Specialties can meet your manufacturing, marine, or agricultural needs. We offer a variety of lubricants including: Shell Naturelle, Castrol Performance Bio, and various Food Grade lubricants. Contact Twin Specialties for a quote.

What are Aerospace Lubricants?

On May 30, 2020, NASA and SpaceX partnered to send American astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. As a new era spaceflight begins, government entities like NASA and private enterprises like SpaceX will work to innovate their rockets and push boundaries for human space flight. Lubricant manufacturers are tasked with the same challenges to create lubricants that will aid in the journey to reach our ambitious goals.

What are Aerospace Lubricants?

Lubricants in used in aerospace applications such as, space travel, commercial airlines, and defense, are like other lubricants, but face more stringent performance demands. In order to be classified as an aerospace lubricant, products must pass tests that are created by the Department of Defense (DoD) known as “MILSPECS.” To ensure safety and performance for aerospace applications, the MILSPECS create standardization to meet DoD objectives. These MILSPECS test different performance factors such as: corrosion protection, shear stability, compatibility, and water sensitivity.

What Differentiates Aerospace Lubricants?

In addition to meeting various MILSPECS, aerospace lubricants are engineered specifically for aircraft engines and fuel systems. The key difference between aerospace lubricants and non-aerospace lubricants is weight. In space operations, weight is crucial because more fuel is needed, which can become costly. It could also put a strain on how many other supplies could be included in the launch. As the safety of astronauts and functionality of equipment is vital, these lubricants cannot fail.

In space applications, lubricants face the most demanding tests. With temperatures in space at near Absolute-Zero and reentry temperatures reaching 5000 F, lubricants must perform in a wider-range of temperatures than their Earth-bound equivalents. Additionally, lubricants must be able to operate in a vacuum environment. This is on top of all of the crucial navigational and life-supporting machines that make space travel possibly. These machines cannot suffer any breakdowns or down time as they support life and other functions both in space and on Earth. Aerospace lubricants must have a long life to maintain these critical operations.

In defense operations, completing the objective is key and your lubricant must perform to ensure the objective is met. These lubricants have to: withstand extreme-temperature jet engines, cargo aircraft landing gears, precise navigational tools, and other wide-temperature components. By selecting lubricants that meet the right MILSPECS you can ensure proper performance and success in your aerospace operations.

Aerospace Lubricant Manufacturing

Aerospace lubricants in today’s markets can be in the form of liquids or greases. Most use synthetic base oils to achieve desired results and improve efficiency. Most of these lubricants are made of perfluoropolyether (PFPEs) or Multiply Alkylated Cyclopentane (MACs). Several large manufacturers produce these products that meet various MILSPECS. Twin Specialties has access to a wide variety aerospace and MILSPEC lubricants from Shell and Castrol. Contact us to learn more about our catalog.

What are Friction Modifiers?

What are Friction Modifiers?

Friction modifiers are mild anti-wear additives used to minimize light surface contact, such as sliding and rolling. These can also be referred to as boundary lubrication additives. These additives are used in lubricants to modify the coefficient of friction (hence the name, Friction Modifiers). Friction modifiers are deployed to prevent wear on metal surfaces. Mostly used in transmission fluids and engine oils, these additives help slow down wear and increase fuel economy.

How do Friction Modifiers Work?

Source: Machinery Lubrication – Noria

A friction modifier molecule consists of two parts: a polar end (head) and an oil-soluble end (tail). The head attaches itself to the metal surface to create a cushion for the metal surface against another metal surface. The tails stand up like a carpet; vertically stacked besides each other in a Nano-sized sheet covering the metal surface. These molecules hold up when cushioned surfaces come in light contact with each other. This forms a thick boundary film that is softer than metal surfaces.

These additives have multiple functions beyond friction modification. They work as antioxidants and corrosion inhibitors as well. As the contact or load becomes heavier, the polar molecules are brushed off, thus rendering the additive useless in reducing friction.

Friction Modifier Applications

Friction Modifiers are typically used in engine oils and automatic transmission fluids. In engine oils, friction modifiers are deployed to improve fuel economy by reducing friction. In transmission fluids, friction modifiers are deployed to improve engagement on clutches. Some situations require some traction to operate properly.

Their use in engine lubricants increased in the 1970s due to the oil embargo. The lack of fuel led the automotive industry to improve fuel economy, thus reducing fuel usage. Continuous development has led to lower viscosity lubricants. Now, lubricants require robust friction modifiers to reduce wear and friction to offset the lower viscosity.

However, friction modifiers in these applications act differently based on shear conditions. This ensures equipment does not wear while also preventing too much slippage. This smooths the transition from a dynamic condition to static condition. For example, this is used in a gear change in a transmission.

Anti-Wear and Extreme Pressure (EP) Additives

As loads become heavier, engineers must adjust their lubricant to meet the tougher demands of heavier loads and higher temperatures. You should switch to a modifier that is classified as an anti-wear additive. A common and effective anti-wear agent is Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate (ZDDP). These additives react with metal surfaces once the environment reaches a high enough temperature.

As loads continue to increase, in addition to metal contact, the friction modifier must become more robust. In this instance, your lubricant must include extreme pressure (EP) additives. These additives are either temperature-dependent or not. Temperature-dependent EP additives activate as the metal surface temperature increases due to the extreme pressure. The reaction is driven by the heat produced from friction.

Final Thoughts

Lubricants with friction modifiers create more efficient operating environments. This leads to less wear, downtime, and carbon dioxide emissions. As friction modifier additives improve, lubricant manufacturers will aim to reduce to viscosity to reduce shear conditions. Conversely, this creates more components operating in thin boundary lubrication conditions. We will see continuous innovation of these additives to meet the performance and efficiency demands.

How Mineral Base Oils are Made

Oil-based liquid lubricants are composed of two (2) key ingredients: base oil and additive packages. Additive packages in a lubricant will tend to vary based on applications. This post will focus on the main ingredient, base oils. Base oils will comprise typically 80-99% of an oil-based lubricant. Before we look at the base oil in a finished lubricant, we have to understand how oil gets from a drilling site to a refinery and finally into your lubricant.

Extracting and Transporting Crude Oil

After crude oil is extracted from the ground at wellhead or platform drilling sites, it is transported via rail, ship, or pipeline. It is then stored at a terminal or hub. Oil & Gas Manufacturers then take the crude and refine it to meet product specifications. Some of these products include gasoline, heating oil, fuel oils, asphalt and road oil, and lubricants.

Separating the Crude Oil

The typical barrel of crude is 42 gallons. According to the American Petroleum Institute, only 0.5 gallons of crude oil in each barrel are used to make lubricants.

This is because lubricants require longer chain hydrocarbons. Most lubricants have hydrocarbon molecules with 26-40 carbon atoms. Crude oil is heated and vaporized then condensed; this process is known as distillation. The distilled oil is easily separated by hydrocarbon chain lengths. Shorter molecules rise to the top and longer molecules sink to the bottom. After the hydrocarbons with 26-40 carbon atoms are separated, they are sent to a refining process specific to lubricants.

Refining the Crude Oil

The distilled oil is refined using two different processes: extraction and conversion. Extraction involves four steps:

  1. Deasphalting: Takes residue at the bottom and separates into tar and compounds similar to lube distillates.
  2. Solvent Extraction: Remove most the aromatics and undesirable constituents of oil distillates. Results in neutral oil base stocks called reaffinates.
  3. Dewaxing: Reaffinates are dewaxed to produce a wax and dewaxed oil. The dewaxed oil becomes base stock for lubricants.
  4. Hydrofinishing: Changes polar compounds in oil by a chemical reaction. Oil becomes lighter in color and exhibits improved chemical stability.

The conversion process involves three steps and is becoming popular for refining. This process involves converting undesirable products into desirable products using hydrogen, heat, and pressure:

  1. Hydrocracking: Distillates are subjected to a chemical reaction at high temperatures and high pressure. The aromatic and naphthene rings are broken and joined using hydrogen to form an isoparaffin structure.
  2. Hydrodewaxing: A hydrogenation unit is used to deploy a catalyst that converts waxy normal paraffins to desirable isoparaffin structures.
  3. Hydrotreating: The first two processes broke chemical bonds, therefore it is necessary to saturate unsaturated molecules. By adding more hydrogen, the molecules saturate and become more stable and better able to resist oxidation

Classifying Refined Oil

This results in mineral oil base stocks that are classified into three different groups. API Groups I, II, and III are all mineral oil-based, but differ based the level of refining. The chart below gives a breakdown of each of the 3 mineral groups.

The key factors are: sulfur (%), saturates (%), and viscosity index. Some refer to Group III base stocks as “synthetic” due to the chemical processes they undergo. The natural chemical structure is altered from the natural structures found in mineral oil. However, the API classifies Group III oils as mineral because they originate from crude oil

The conversion process is more effective in reducing aromatic content, but the process is more expensive. Typically, the costs are passed along to end-users, but they get a higher quality base oil and better performance. Group II and Group III are becoming more prevalent as preferences shift towards conversion processes rather than extraction processes. Once refined, base stocks are blended with additives and additive packages to form a final product lubricant.