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Vehicle Technologies Office: Lubricants

As most vehicles are on the road for more than 15 years before they are retired, investigating technologies that will improve today's vehicles is essential. Because 11.5 percent of fuel energy is consumed by engine friction, decreasing this friction through lubricants can lead to substantial improvements in the fuel economy of current vehicles, without needing to wait for the fleet to turn over. In fact, a 1 percent fuel savings in the existing vehicle fleet possible through lubricants could save 97 thousand barrels of oil a day or $3.5 billion a year.

Because of these benefits, the Vehicle Technologies Office supports research on lubricants that can improve the efficiency of internal combustion engine vehicles, complementing our work on advanced combustion engine technology. This work has the goal to by 2015 demonstrate a cost effective lubricant that can result in a two percent fuel economy improvement.

Research that the Vehicle Technologies Office supports includes:

  • Developing better base oils and oil additives that may have the potential to improve the mechanical efficiency of internal combustion engines by 10 percent
  • Work to improve researchers' understanding of the relationship between the results of benchtop and engine tests when studying friction and wear performance data. This work will help improve standards and the accuracy of future research.
  • Investigating lubricants that can improve the mechanical efficiency of internal combustion engines by 10 percent without causing increased wear, emissions, or damage to the emission aftertreatment system. This includes the potential of using iconic liquids (salts in a liquid state) as lubricants or lubricant additives, which research has shown may have 30 percent less friction than comparable lubricants.
  • Developing and optimizing tribochemical films (the protective layer that forms on metal surfaces when using oil additives) to reduce friction, reduce wear, and improve fuel economy.
  • Developing additives to lubricants that enable the use of higher levels of biofuels (such as intermediate blends of ethanol) in non-flexible fuel vehicles currently on the road