Nanotechnology has become a field unto itself over the last couple of decades, so it likely was only a matter of time before it found its way into automotive lubricants. Millers Oils is one of, if not the, first companies to adopt this technology as a means to improve lubrication in engines, transmissions and differentials by reducing friction and heat, and retaining viscosity.
eMillers Oils begins the process by selecting the highest quality base stocks from the global marketplace. The company is not tied to any one supplier when it comes to the base stocks it uses, which are a blend of Group III, IV and V oils. So, even before Millers adds its proprietary nanotechnology, its oils are a premium product above the fold of the Mobil 1s and Castrol Syntecs of the lubrication world.
You can read more slippery details on base stocks here (http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/29113/base-oil-groups), but suffice it to say that the higher the group, the better the base stock.
“All the way around, it’s really the best that they can put together from sources all over the world,” said Harry King, engineer and technical representative for Performance Racing Oils, the U.S. distributor for Millers Oils. “They buy the best they can find on the open market.”
Millers then incorporates into that blend its proprietary nanotechnology, which is comprised of the lowest-friction solid lubricant known, even when it isn’t in nanotechnological form. You won’t get King to tell you what the material is — we tried — but there are a few details he will divulge. First, we should explain a little about the nanotechnology in Millers Oils.
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. The solid lubricants measure 30 to 100 nm in diameter and if you were to put them under an electron microscope, those nanoparticles, known as inorganic fullerenes, would appear as layered structures with a center that looks like a soccer ball. The fullerenes are more resistant to high pressure, and form a physical barrier between the mating surfaces themselves. They have elasticity to them, just like a soccer ball. They fill crevices between asperities, those microscopic rough edges on the surface of any machined metal in an engine or gearbox, and exfoliate to form a tribofilm on the surface above the asperities.
“Those asperities kind of rub against each other,” King said. “From a scale perspective, those asperities will be a few microns in size. The nanoparticles are 30 to 100 nanometers. Now there are 1,000 nanometers in a micron, so you’re talking about billions of those things in between the asperities.”
It’s here at the molecular level that nanotechnology does its part to reduce friction in an engine, transmission or differential. By reducing heat, you increase longevity of the part and the lubricant itself because it retains its viscosity and better resists oxidation.
“Unlocking the energy normally wasted in friction gives the cheapest power increase you can get. In a heavily restricted formula it may be the only increase easily available,” explained Martyn Mann, technical director for Millers Oils. “Less friction doesn’t just provide more power, it also reduces the amount of heat produced, also reducing cooling requirements and decreasing engine wear, thus extending service intervals.”
For example, Miller tested its nanotechnology oils in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 racecar, and results showed a power increase of 1.5 percent compared with the original lubricant. Say the Mercedes made 600 horsepower, which is about right. That’s a 9 horsepower bump, which might come in handy down a long straightaway.
As another example, in tests conducted by Rogue Motorsports (http://www.millersoils.co.uk/news/2012/281112-Toyota-GT86-Power-Test.asp), a Toyota FRS gained 6.1 wheel horsepower, from 157 to 163.1 by just changing the filter and the oil. That’s a 3.8 percent power gain. Torque also increased from 127.5 to 131.3 pound-feet.
“If you’re going from a Group III to a blend of Groups IV and V, that’s going to be a marked improvement in your coefficient of friction. You’re going to pick up a lot of power on that,” said King, who was an engineer on several Modular V8 engines when he worked for Ford Motor Company. “In addition to that, you have the nanotechnology, which lowers friction further.
“When you break down where the friction is in the engine, most of it that you see is in the ring-to-cylinder-bore interface. It’s something like 40 percent of engine friction. I forget how much, but it’s a very large amount,” King added. “But more specifically, when that piston reverses direction at top dead center and bottom dead center you lose your hydrodynamic wedge. You lose that film of oil that you built up that had kept your rings from actually touching the bore. When you reverse direction, you have metal-to-metal contact and that particular area is really where the nanotechnology shines.”
Nanoparticles also resist shearing, which is important in engines, but critical in gear-to-gear applications such as differentials and transmissions. Millers Oils worked with Bryan Herta’s IndyCar team to create a lubricant for its Xtrac gearboxes. The team had been having a problem with premature pitting on the ring and pinion gears.
“Xtrac, as part of their maintenance, recommends to the IndyCar teams that they cycle out their ring and pinion after 5,000 race miles,” said Karl Poeltl, director of sales for Performance Racing Oils. “Bryan Herta’s race team had never gotten any more than 2,700 race miles out of any ring and pinion they’d ever run in the Xtrac gearbox, due to pitting, and they averaged 1,900 race miles. We made a formulation for them and they ran the full 5,000 race miles and when they took it apart, it still looked brand new, with no pitting.”
Poeltl concedes that nanotechnology is a tough sell because it’s not something customers can see or feel. By citing reductions in friction and operating temperatures, power gains and extended service intervals, particularly through the crucible of motorsports, consumers begin to see the difference.
“I actually try to steer the focus away from nanotechnology, although it is a big part of our product,” Poeltl said. “I try not to focus on that. I try to give them real world examples of what we’re seeing out there.”