Starfish Polymer Has Lube Benefits


As part of a collaborative effort with Lubrizol, University of Warwick researchers have created starfish-like, self-healing polymers for possible use in additives to extend the life of automotive engine oils.

In its recent announcement, the Coventry, U.K. based university noted that polymers are often added to automotive oils to control important physical properties such as viscosity, but mechanical and thermal stress can break the polymers. That decreases the efficiency and their effect on the oils properties.

The research team, led by Warwick Professor David Haddleton, designed a self-healing, star-shaped polymer for use as a viscosity modifier. The methacrylate polymer has vulnerable long arms which could be broken off if stressed, reducing performance. The research team discovered they could add a chemical combination to the polymers backbone which, looking almost like a starfish, allows broken arms to reform via a Diels Alder cycloaddition reaction.

Haddleton told Lube Report that in simpler terms, the cycloaddition reaction is a bit like Velcro, where the bond can be broken and reformed, with the addition of the appropriate amount of energy.

The research is part of a long-term collaboration between Lubrizol and the University of Warwick, he said, looking at a range of automotive applications. Lubrizol and the U.K.s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded the research work. Other members of the research team include Jay Syrett of the University of Warwick, Giuseppe Mantovani of the University of Nottingham, and William R.S. Barton and David Price of Lubrizols Hazelwood Research Center in Derby, U.K.

The research team plans to optimize the chemistry before passing it on to our industrial collaborators, Lubrizol, for development in automotive lubricant applications, Haddleton added. He explained that because, generally speaking, introducing new technology to market can potentially cause manufacturing plant and process problems, new technology needs to bring significant improvements, not incremental, as can be the case with improvements in existing processes.

The research paper, Self-healing polymers prepared via living radical polymerization was accepted in December 2009 by the Royal Society of Chemistrys Polymer Chemistry journal, and published online in January. To see it, click here.

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