Recently, researchers have been looking into the benefits of applying nanotechnology to engine oils.
While this innovative use of nanoparticles is not yet being used by any of the big oil companies, several research projects are underway and some smaller manufacturers are beginning to experiment with the technology.
Inside internal combustion engines, nanoparticles cause an increase in thermal conduction, preventing overheating. They also reduce wear by improving the way in which surfaces move over one another. In terms of lubrication, the results are said to be better than those achieved by conventional engine oils.
One current research programme, known as the AddNano Project, involves the addition of nanoparticles to commercial engine oil. The project aims to create oil that can be produced industrially at a reasonable cost, without adverse effects on the environment or workers.
A company known as NanoMaterials has created lubricants that use tungsten disulphide nanoparticles shaped like geodesic spheres. These create a layer that protects metal parts inside mechanisms. They also smooth any rough surfaces, which helps to prevent friction and reduce heating.
While they have not yet embraced these advances in their lubricants, large oil companies such as Shell are already using nanotechnology in other ways. The firm uses nanoparticles as catalysts, to increase the speed of chemical reactions, and as a coating to prevent corrosion inside pipes.
The company already has some high-performing mineral-based oils, such as Shell Omala S2 G 320, which lubricates industrial gears under heavy load. Nanoparticles could be used to create even more advanced lubricants in the future.