Chemmotology: A Soviet Science Still Evolving


MOSCOW – In the 1960s, scientists in the Soviet Union founded chemmotology, a science focused on making efficient use of fuels, lubricants and other fluids used in machinery. Today that science continues to evolve, although it did not spread and was not duplicated outside of its original boundaries.

The Soviets became concerned with cost-effective use of fuels and lubricants in the 1960s, a decade before an OPEC oil embargo triggered the first major gasoline crisis in the United States, a few more years before U.S. President Jimmy Carter called for energy conservation, calling such a campaign moral equivalent of war in a famous 1978 speech.

The West never developed a corresponding science or term, possibly because of ideological differences and the large gulf between the Soviet Union and its foes during the Cold War. When the West did tackle such challenges, it did so through existing disciplines.

The origins of chemmotology – which is pronounced kim-mo-to-lo-gy – date back to 1964 when it was established as an applied science by the Soviet scientific and engineering community to solve a wide range of problems in the engines, machines and the petrochemicals they use. Russian scientist and chemical engineer Konstantin Papok coined the term by combining chemistry, motor and logos, the Greek word for science.

Papok defined it as a new science that studies chemical and physical properties of fuels, lubricants and special fluids as well as their service performance and rational use in the machinery and equipment, Joseph Lyubinin, head of new product development at RN-Lubricants, told RPIs Industrial Oils and Metalworking Fluids conference here on May 26. RN-Lubricants is the lube arm of the state owned oil major Rosneft.

From the turn of the century onwards chemmotology began to incorporate environmental considerations, too, Lyubinin said.

Modern society tends toward sustainable development, and alternative energy enters more and more spheres of human activity, he said. During the last decade, the share of alternative fuels and lubricants has been increasing, and the importance of cost effectiveness and preservation of the environment is crucial.

According to Lyubinin, chemmotology is very relevant to metalworking activities in the narrow area of metalworking fluids and should encompass the following areas: fluids, engineering, operation and preservation of the environment.

The engineering part deals with the materials and how they are processed, the tools for processing and the system for application of the metalworking fluids. The operation part deals with the selection of optimal fluids and tools for processing, what modes of processing are used, process preparation procedures and procedures after processing, he observed, such as corrosion prevention, logistics and storage.

He added that the tribological characteristics of metalworking – the ability of fluids to soften and penetrate metals, their detergency and cooling properties, the cutting and plasticizing characteristics of workpieces – are also important.

Chemmotology [aims] to achieve maximum cost effectiveness for raw materials, fuels, lubricants and special fluids through optimization and quality of products, and their rational and efficient use, Lyubinin said.

Several research centers and university institutes and departments in Russia have chemmotology programs. These include the Gubkin Institutes Department for Chemistry and Technology of Lubricating Materials and Chemmotology, and the 25th Research Institute for Chemmotology of the Ministry of Defense.

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