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FUCHS is already researching tomorrow's solutions

The technical and regulatory requirements of lubricants, such as the REACH legislation, are set to become stricter. This will lead to a growing need for high-performance lubricants with increasing product specialization and individualization.

New high-performance materials, such as plastics, coated materials or titanium and aluminum alloys that are used in the aerospace and medical engineering sectors require innovative processing fluids with new properties. In the automotive field, the increasingly powerful engines are placing ever greater loads on transmissions and higher demands on the oil used. The central challenges in the sector – lightweight construction, fuel savings and the increase in electric motors – require innovative fluids and greases.

The urgency of socially and environmentally relevant topics, such as climate change or scarcity of resources, demands new approaches within the added value chain. Keywords include CO2 reduction, energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, regenerative resources and recycling. FUCHS is facing up to these challenges.

FUCHS engages in intensive research together with numerous partners

Medium-chain fatty acids are used in numerous FUCHS products: esters on this basis represent good cold and aging properties and impress with their "closeness to nature" - in other words, their use also contributes to cost-effective production. The disadvantage: European, sustainable sources of these special fatty acids are rare. Today, caproic, caprylic and capric acid (the so-called goat oils, from Latin Capra = goat) are mainly obtained from palm kernel oil, which is imported from the tropics. FUCHS, therefore, did not hesitate to participate in the project "Bio-based capric and caprylic acid - production, purification, marketing strategy - CapAcidy" financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which was successfully completed in mid-2019.

The Biogas Innovation Award 2019, endowed with 10,000 euros, was awarded to Maria Braune from the German Biomass Research Centre and Dr. Heike Sträuber from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research for the process they developed to produce medium-chain fatty acids from the fermentation substrate of biogas plants. A real win-win situation: on the one hand, the plant operators receive new customers and can market their products better, and on the other hand, the chemical industry can use regional, renewable raw materials for its production. Now that the project has been completed, FUCHS is testing the application possibilities in the company in its role as an industrial partner, focusing above all on the further development of the technical process, but also on specifying the fatty acids generated.

Wear and energy consumption of machines increase drastically if they are not optimally lubricated. In many applications, however, ideal lubrication is not possible at all, for example with free-running motorcycle chains or agricultural machines. The twelve partners in the project "Characterization of efficiency-optimized coating lubrication systems (CHEOPS3)”, which was launched in 2015 and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, focused on consistent friction reduction in order to improve the energy and resource efficiency of different drives - also in the field of electromobility. FUCHS was able to achieve significantly lower friction in various applications with the aid of newly developed hydrous fluids and thus contribute to the success of the project. After completion of the research project at the end of October 2019, FUCHS will test this completely new technology with its customers to find out which technical requirements are necessary and useful for the use of water-containing lubricants in the production of drives.

For CHEOPS3, FUCHS and its partners relied on the experience gained from previous PEGASUS projects. The joint research projects launched in 2009 also aimed to increase energy efficiency in the car drive train (engine, transmission, bearings) and to promote savings in fuel consumption by researching material and lubricant solutions.

Nine percent of global energy consumption could be saved with the help of Superlubricity - around one terawatt hour per year in Germany alone. In the transport and industry sectors, which are responsible for a third of energy consumption in this country, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 370,000 metric tons.

Superlubricity means that individual components slide on each other with virtually no friction (the coefficient of friction is less than 0.01). In the internal combustion engine, however, it is hardly achievable from today's perspective due to a so-called masking effect, where individual necessary active ingredients of the engine oil block the active mechanism under certain conditions. Other areas of application are therefore of interest, such as drive chains, electric axle drives or bearings.

The CHEPHREN project, in which partners from research and industry have joined forces, including the Technical University of Munich, BMW and the Fraunhofer Institutes for Materials and Radiation Technology and for Mechanics of Materials, is working on ways to make the oil usable in these and many other fields. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

FUCHS' role is to optimize and develop lubricants, base fluids and additive technology with regard to friction-reducing effects in contact with different coating systems and tribologically exposed plastics.

The research partners are also planning to establish databases in order to be able to predict the service life of technical systems more accurately in the future. The aim is to develop universal approaches that can be used to rapidly transfer Superlubricity into real-world applications.

Thickeners and binders are essential for the production of modern lubricants - however, petroleum-based products are generally used for this purpose. Since October 2017, FUCHS and three partners from the chemical and biotechnology industries have been researching a more environment-friendly alternative. The project, which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the funding initiative "Tailor-made biobased ingredients for a competitive bioeconomy (PHAt)", focuses on "polyhydroxyalkanoates" (PHA) - biodegradable biopolymers. Different PHA are produced by several bacterial species as part of their energy metabolism. The challenge of the PHAt project is now to chemically modify the polymers obtained, optimize their thickening and binding properties and test them in various applications. The aim by the end of the project at the end of September 2020 is to integrate the new raw materials into suitable lubricants for various applications, from tractors to wind turbines.

The "Pegasus" project of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is a joint research project launched in 2009 to increase energy efficiency in the passenger vehicle drive train (motor, transmission, bearings). Ten companies and institutes are researching material and lubricant solutions that promote fuel consumption savings.

The research alliance "Technofunctional Proteins" of the BMBF is researching the structure-function relationships of vegetable proteins that are not suitable for food and fodder production. The project is dedicated to the use of modified proteins as additives within the scope of lubricant manufacture. Proteins of this kind can be gained from agricultural waste materials. The project is in the second funding phase (2017 to 2020).

Every day, industry and daily life produce huge quantities of carbon-rich residual flows. So far, the potential they offer has hardly been exploited materially. Residual materials such as household and industrial waste, sewage sludge or industrial wastewater are promising sources for the production of biobased raw materials for the chemical industry. This carbon-rich waste also includes used grease, which can be found in large quantities in restaurants and snack bars. The biotechnological refinement of frying fat to produce new high-quality raw materials for lubricants was the aim of a sub-project within the framework of the strategic alliance "Zero Carbon Footprint" (ZeroCarbFP). Used cooking oil proved to be particularly of interest for FUCHS, as it still contains most of the natural fats and oils from which it was made. The lubricant specialist teamed up with the Zwingenberg-based biotechnology company BRAIN AG to gently select and refine the substances contained in frying fat. In this way, some very promising molecules for FUCHS were identified, which were considered as raw materials for an important product group. In the third phase of the ZeroCarbFP project, which started in February 2020, large scale production of the target molecules is planned. ZeroCarbFP is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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