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Israeli nano-lubricant could mean no more oil changes

Posted By Bob Rosenbaum On December 27, 2004 @ 11:00 pm In | No Comments

Soon to be a picture from the past – NanoLub spheres can roll over one another – like miniature ball bearings – staying cooler and maintaining their function longer.

Imagine buying a new car and driving it for 10 years without once taking it for an oil-and-lube job. The engine won’t even have a dipstick to check the oil. That’s what the future holds if Rehovot-based ApNano Materials succeeds in marketing NanoLub.

NanoLub is the world’s first synthetic lubricant to be based on spherical inorganic nanoparticles. As with other lubricants, its job is to reduce wear and friction between moving objects (like engine parts), enabling longer operation and higher efficiency. NanoLub dramatically outperforms every known commercial solid lubricant marketed today.

As its creator, ApNano Materials has just been selected by the US investing journal Red Herring as one of the top 100 innovators that will drive global markets in 2005.

Red Herring’s selection is among the most prestigious awards bestowed today. It follows earlier recognition by the US business research firm InnovationWORLD (ApNano was listed among its InnovationWORLD 21 companies in October.) Israel’s business daily TheMarker has also recently recognized ApNano’s achievements, dubbing CEO Menachem Genut as one of Israel’s most promising entrepreneurs.

Niles Fleischer, ApNano’s VP of Business Development, said that the Red Herring award is especially valuable and timely. “This confirms our international standing in the eyes of both existing and potential customers and produces the visibility that many of them need to do business with us,” he told ISRAEL21c.
“We also see that some venture capital firms are revisiting their investment plans and their views concerning our company.”

The search for a perfect lubricant – that is, one that never requires replacement – is an old one. In the last century, synthetic additives extended the effectiveness of age-old lubricants like oil. ApNano’s product is the result of the pioneering research performed by Professor Reshef Tenne, ApNano CEO Genut and others in the Department of Materials and Interfaces at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The advantage of NanoLub over existing solid lubricants is expressed in its description, “spherical inorganic nanoparticles.” NanoLub spheres can roll over one another – like miniature ball bearings – staying cooler and maintaining their function longer. Their nanometer scale enables them to find their way into tinier places and reduces their agglomeration, resulting in dramatically increased coverage, even on rough surfaces. Finally, as inorganic material, NanoLub performs beautifully even in extremely harsh environments.

NanoLub has even been shown to improve lubrication efficiency for roughly-finished parts and surfaces, so that manufacturers can spend less time and money machining their parts. On the environmental side, using NanoLub reduces energy consumption and can decrease air pollution. Finally, NanoLub can be used as an additive, as an impregnated material, as a component in polymer or metal composites, or simply by itself as a powder.

ApNano is testing NanoLub in numerous maintenance-free systems, including aerospace, medical and marine industries, ultra-clean manufacturing environments, and in heavy machinery such as power plant turbines.
But perhaps the most exciting prospect that arises from NanoLub is the possibility that automotive engines can be sealed completely, without need for an oil change – ever.

Considering that heat and wear are among the primary causes of engine and transmission failure today, NanoLub may even raise the future reliability of these components to that of today’s semiconductor chips.

In some of the trials performed with NanoLub, testers were simply unable to create enough friction in the lubricant to produce measurable damage – even when trial durations were increased severely beyond specifications.

European automotive giant Volkswagen is already partnering with tiny ApNano to develop synthetic lubricants for its high-end product line. The US synthetic lubricant company Hatco Corporation has also signed up with ApNano to develop nanoparticle-based lubricants for aviation, refrigeration and other high performance applications.

Amid all the recent activities and awards, ApNano is now planning its first semi-commercial facility, to be located in Israel. According to Fleischer, the factory will enable production of about 220 pounds per day of NanoLub. “We’ve already started to consult with a chemical engineering firm to plan the facility.”

At mid-year, ApNano announced that it had succeeded in developing an improved reactor that will shorten the time to production and significantly lower the cost of making NanoLub in larger quantities.

Fleischer expects factory-level commercialization within three years, with annual revenues of $100 million or more. That factory may be built in the US or in Europe, Fleischer adds. Especially with the recent awards, “we’ve got lots of people running after us to build our factory in their regions.”

Some see NanoLub as an upstart in the well-established lubricants industry. According to one research firm, extreme pressure/anti-wear additives make up only about $1 billion in annual revenues globally, as compared to $37 billion for the broader lubricants market.
But if NanoLub succeeds, the market could grow significantly and force larger producers like Shell, ExxonMobile and ChevronTexaco to develop more competitive technologies.

Another element of NanoLub’s market appeal is that it provides a ‘greener’ alternative to many existing lubricants. Environmental concerns are a growing concern for big producers. “With all the green market trends – the demands of environmentalists, the need to extend fuel mileage – there is a need to look for alternatives, and our process is green and environmentally friendly. We’re bringing them a very painless way to make the change.”

Regarding competition, Fleisher noted that last week ApNano executives met with five separate companies. “Almost without exception, these companies spoke of being approached with other solutions based on nanomaterials, but that NanoLub is the only product they have seen that meets their criteria.”

CEO Genut has stated that NanoLub’s cost will be competitive with existing high performance synthetic lubricants.


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