Group Develops Renewable Thickeners

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A German consortium announced that it has successfully completed a three-year project to develop biolubricant thickeners made of polyhydroxyalkanoates, naturally occurring polyesters. The group also announced that it will continue its work, trying now to make products that are marketable and cost-competitive.

The consortium, PHAt, has been working for three years using a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to develop additives that could help make lubricants more sustainable. In a Sept. 21 news release, the group noted that industry has made significant progress in the development of lubricants made with renewable ingredients, such as base stocks from plant or animal sources. It added though that biolubricants still face challenges such as cost and carbon footprints that remain significant.

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In an effort to address this, the consortium set out to develop polyhydroxyalkanoates that could be used as lubricant thickeners and binders in friction-reducing coatings. Polyhydroxyalkanoates are polyesters produced in nature by numerous organisms – for example during bacterial fermentation of sugars and lipids. The idea was that using thickeners from renewable sources would reduce the carbon footprints of finished lubes.

The consortium has four members. The Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Safety and Energy Technology coordinated the project and contributed studies on polyhydroxyalkanoates, while Fritzmeier Umwelttchnik GmbH produced the chemicals. UnaveraChemLab GmbH had core competencies to modify the polyhydroxyalkanoates, and Fuchs helped employ them in lubricant formulations.

In its news release, the consortium claimed that it had produced polyhydroxyalkanoates that perform at least as well as conventional thickeners and as a binder in polymer-based bonded coatings. It said that all members are enthused about the progress and want to work toward the ultimate goal of developing chemicals that are effective and cost-competitive.

“At the end of the project period, it became clear that the overarching goal is already within reach,” it said. “However, further research is still needed to further develop bio-based polymers in lubricants and bonded coatings into marketable and competitive products.” The project has been renamed PHAtiCuS and renewed for three more years.

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