Graphene, the stuff that makes up the lead of our pencils, is turning out to be quite the wonder material. With research into possible uses such as super conductors, water filter, and maybe even cleaning up nuclear waste, it is not surprising that it may also improve fuel performance in our cars.
Scientists at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering have released a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows that adding graphene in lubricant oil lessens the effects of wear and friction in automobile engines.
Their data shows that, despite concentrations being as low as 1 part per thousand to 1 part per ten thousand, lubricant oils with graphene as an additive outperformed commercial lubricants and also beat other carbon based additives in terms of friction and wear reduction.
A previous study has shown that singe-layer graphene applied on steel sliders and rollers dramatically reduced friction and wear and tear. Another article published in Materials Today two years ago did a review of researches then on graphene as an additive have found the same properties.
What makes this new development novel is the usage of crumpled graphene balls which has a similar structure to that of crumpled paper balls. This decision resulted in the results of the study and made the possibility of seeing graphene in lubricant oils a step nearer.
Previous researches which utilized graphene as additive had to deal with the problem of clumping of the carbon nanoparticles in oil. Instead of lubricating the engine, prior graphene mixtures had lower lubrication and also posed a risk of jamming the engine’s gears thus creating friction and wear. Researchers sidestepped this problem by using surfactants, chemicals that hinder the clumping, so that it is dispersed.
However, this fix remains a short term solution, as friction in the car engine may cause the surfactants to decompose resulting in the nanoparticles clumping together again.
This is where the shape of crumpled graphene balls come in handy. Due to its smaller shape, it disperses easily in oil without the need for surfactants. Even in the case that the nanoparticles come in close contact or clump together, the pointy surfaces of the particles ensure that they can easily separate again when disturbed.
What this means for car engines is that less fuel will be used in overcoming engine friction and improving fuel performance. In a report at Phys.org, an author of the study, Jiaxing Huang said, “Every year, millions of tons of fuel are wasted because of friction.” With their research and time, they may soon be able to lessen that.