Researchers in Germany believe that water can replace mineral oils as a form of lubrication.
Many industrial operations, including drilling, milling, turning and grinding, use mineral oils as cooling lubricants to prevent work pieces and tools from overheating.
However, mineral oils are a finite resource that transport relatively little heat away from areas of friction, while also being flammable and detrimental to human health.
A team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising conducted two projects — supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research — where they replaced lubricating oils with water.
According to Andreas Malberg, a Fraunhofer researcher working on the project, additives were the key ingredients that enabled water to achieve a performance to equal that of oil.
‘The additive is a biopolymer,’ said Malberg. ‘A product you can buy wherever you want.’ Malberg was not, however, able to reveal the exact name of the biopolymer used.
The biopolymer acts as a thickening agent, which can increase the viscosity of water from 1mPas to 40mPas. Oil has a viscosity of 25–40mPas.
The lubricant was further improved by adding additional water-soluble additives so it could be used as an anti-corrosion agent, for example.
In addition to a significantly lower impact on the environment, Fraunhofer claims it is easier to clean components that come into contact with a water-based lubricant.
Furthermore, it is claimed that converting to the new lubricant is easy for companies to carry out.
The newly developed lubricant, which won the German raw material efficiency prize in December 2011, is already being distributed by Carl Bechem under the product name of BERUFLUID and is in use in various metal working companies.