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.
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.
Crude oil is a finite resource. Set against this background, substitutes are also required in the lubricants industry. Renewable raw materials include vegetable-based oils, such as rapeseed oil. The discussions on "food competition" from technical use of vegetable oils have led to searches for alternative raw materials that are not suitable for food or fodder production. FUCHS is therefore participating in the interdisciplinary initiative "Advanced Biomass Value" of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This project focuses on the development of an integrated recovery chain for conversion of third generation algae and yeast-based biomass. The objective here is to produce aviation fuels, functional lubricants, and new building materials. Lipids which are contained in certain types of algae can be used to produce high-grade lubrication components.
In the BMBF research initiative "Zero Carbon Footprint", the recycling of carbon-rich waste streams is being investigated for production of functional biomass. The project aims to generate reusable materials from waste. The keyword here is waste-to-value. The carbon contained in industrial waste water, sewage sludge and flue gas is to be converted into valuable building blocks for industrial production through microorganisms that use the waste as substrates. For FUCHS, the focus of research activities lies in the field of functional base oils and additives. Complex molecules are to be gained through enzymatic modification for use as base fluids or additives.
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.
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.