Lubricate machines with water not oil

Drilling, milling, turning and grinding operations all use lubricants to prevent work pieces and tools from overheating and from excess wear.

Standard lubricants today are based on mineral oil. This has drawbacks: fossil mineral oils come from finite resources, transport relatively little heat away from the work piece, are harmful to health and are flammable.

All this calls for engineering effort, occupational safety, fire safety and disposal, for example. So there‘s a need for alternative lubricants.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany has successfully replaced oil with water as a lubricant. They discovered that water is no worse a lubricant than oil, the key to it all being the additives.

Adding natural polymers to water can dramatically improve its lubricating properties. The researchers set about testing renewable raw materials such as celluloses, starches or bacterial polysaccharides and improving their use as lubricant additives. Their aim: to make water more viscous by adding biopolymers, so it lubricates better.

For the idea to become a marketable product, other partners were brought on board: the Institute for  Machine Tool Engineering and Production Technology at the University of Braunschweig, and Carl Bechem – a lubricant manufacturer from Germany.

The basic fluid made by the IVV, the viscous water, was improved by adding water-soluble additives so it could be used as an anti-corrosion agent, for example.  That‘s how it meets the requirements during processing: withstanding high temperatures and shearing stresses.

In addition to the significantly lower impact on the environment and the high raw material efficiency, the new lubricant also offers technological benefits.

It reduces wear and prolongs tool life, for example. The processed components are also easier to clean. This cuts costs and improves the cost-efficiency of the entire production process.

Converting to the new lubricant is easy for companies to carry out. In principle, once thoroughly cleaned, the same machine tool circulation systems can be used.

In addition, the use of the aqueous lubricant improves occupational health and safety and hygiene: no formation of oil mists, addition of fewer biocides, it smells better and is gentler on the skin.

The newly developed lubricant is already being distributed by Carl Bechem under the product name of BERUFLUID and is in use in various metalworking companies in the manufacturing of  tools, mechanical engineering, in the automotive and aviation industry and in medical technology.