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Nano-Boric Acid Improves Motor Oil Lubricity; Could Decrease Fuel Consumption 4-5%

The crystalline structure of boric acid. Boron atoms are shown as blue spheres, oxygen as pink, and hydrogen as brown. Molecular forces that bind the layers in the lattice enable them to slide over one another with very low friction. Click to enlarge.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have begun to combine nanoparticles of boric acid—known primarily as a mild antiseptic and eye cleanser—with traditional motor oils in order to improve their lubricity and by doing so increase energy efficiency.

In laboratory tests, these new boric acid suspensions have reduced by as much as two-thirds the energy lost through friction as heat. This could result in a four or five percent reduction in fuel consumption, according to Ali Erdemir, senior scientist in Argonne’s Energy Systems Division.

Erdemir received an R&D 100 award in 1991 for showing that microscopic particles of boric acid could dramatically reduce friction between automobile engine parts. Metals covered with a boric acid film exhibited coefficients of friction lower than that of Teflon, making Erdemir’s films the slickest solids in existence at that time.

Reducing the size of the particles to as tiny as 50 nanometers in diameter solved a number of old problems and opened up a number of new possibilities. In previous tests, his team had combined the larger boric acid particles with pure poly-alpha-olefin, the principal ingredient in many synthetic motor oils. While these larger particles dramatically improved the lubricity of the pure oil, within a few weeks gravity had started to separate the mixture. By using smaller particles, Erdemir created a stable suspension of boric acid in the motor oil.

If you can produce or manufacture boric acid at the nanoscale, its properties become even more fantastic.

—Ali Erdemir

Argonne is currently in talks with materials and lubricant manufacturers to bring boric acid technology to market. While these new additives need to pass a battery of environmental and safety tests, they will probably be available within two years.

Boric acid comes from naturally abundant minerals, is cheap to manufacture, and poses no known health hazards or environmental threats.

The microscopic layered structure of the compound. Click to enlarge.

Boric acid owes its lubricious properties to its unique natural structure. The compound consists of a stack of crystallized layers in which the atoms tightly adhere to each other. However, these layers stack themselves relatively far apart, so that the intermolecular bonds (van der Waals forces) are comparatively weak. When stressed, the compound’s layers smear and slide over one another easily, like a strewn deck of playing cards. The strong bonding within each layer prevents direct contact between sliding parts, lowering friction and minimizing wear.

Until recently, most of Erdemir’s work in boric acid lubrication had been restricted to motor oils, principally because of the relative bulk of the larger particles. The move to the nanoscale, however, has opened up other possible uses of the chemical. Through a simple chemical reaction, nano-boric acid can be transformed into a liquid relative of boric acid that has shown potential to increase fuel lubricity.

Using this liquid analog of solid boric acid as a fuel additive on a large scale could benefit the environment, both because it would help to increase fuel efficiency and because it would replace existing fuel lubricants—such as sulfur. By themselves, most fuels—especially diesels—contain some sulfur and other special chemical additives to boost lubricity. When burned, however, some of these additives along with sulfur may cause harmful emissions and acid rain, as well as eventually compromising catalytic devices in the vehicle.

Erdemir believes that nanoscale synthetic compounds may prove to be even more effective lubricants than nanoscale boric acid.

The next step is to use the basic knowledge that we have gained out of this particular compound to come up with more exotic compounds that will work even better.

—Ali Erdemir



Wow - Talk about a rabbit out of a hat.

Imagine that we could reduce energy consumption by 4% across the board by changing our oil. This just seems incredible.

Also, it would seem that this has energy reduction benefits beyond vehicles. Doesn't this impact electric motor efficiency as well, in the industrial and home sectors?

Posters, what are the gotchas here? What other applications become possible if you reduce friction by 60+%?

David R.

I wonder how the lubrication qualities of this Nano-boric lubricant compares with the wide range of Molecular lubricants that are on the market today.


The only "gotcha" I see is they don't talk about manufacturing nano-boric acid as being cheap (only standard boric acid).

I wonder, what ever happened to the Carbon-carbon near frictionless coating that was developed several years ago? It seemed resilient and slick enough to run engine parts without oil.


Boric Acid powder by its self is very slick stuff, I use it frequently for other applications, I can see it working quite well.

Bravo. I cant wait to get some and try it out in my Prius.

Rafael Seidl

Dollared -

as usual, you have to ask what an innovation is being compared to. In this case, pure synthetic motor oil, a step up from the mineral type. However, at what temperatures do the benefits accrue? Engine oil viscosity contributes a significant amount to total friction losses during engine warm-up in severe winter conditions. Once the engine is running hot, losses are much reduced anyhow.

In addition, as others have pointed out, nobody sells synthetic engine oil without any additives. Wrt fuel economy, the most important of these are viscosity modifiers that permit grades like 0W10 to still perform adequately at full power. So the basis for the comparison performed by the author may not be realistic.

P Schager

I was all ready to give out a cheer for this until I got to the part about using it as an additive for fuel. We don't need boron added to our air pollution, or clogging our diesel PF's/CRT's! Boron glass is going to be worse than sulfur--at least the sulfur could be burned out again. There are perfectly good hydrocarbon lubricity additives that will burn completely to CO2 and Water, and one of the best is vegetable oil/biodiesel. Modern diesels aren't that finicky anyway.

Now, if there was an oil additive that could reduce fuel consumption a real 4% or x%, that would be huge because we could all cut back as soon as the next oil change almost. Moreover, it isn't just the energy people who would need to pay attention--anything that improves engine efficiency by x% would reduce all pollutants by that amount too. And the engine would last longer. But the article doesn't seem to add up very well.

If the product is so good, it wouldn't take very long to prove it by putting some in an inexpensive engine of some sort (an old car say) and demonstrate it rather than just speculate. Why they didn't is very odd. Also, the original product should have found applications by now (after 16 years), but they mention none. So it settles. In, say, motor oil the engine will stir it up again soon enough.

I hope he has something good, but don't let it distract from any other efforts until given more reason.


I have to wonder how the nano-particles will hold up to exposure to moisture. The crankcase collects some moisture from both condensation during periods of rest and from combustion gases. This moisture is generally driven out once the oil heats up but if it causes the nano-particles to dissolve in solution, particularly as the H2O warms up, you could not be sure of the stability of the particles over the long term. You could end up with Metaboric acid fairly quickly depending on conditions.


Rafael Seidl:

Elemental boron is nontoxic and common boron compounds such as borates and boric acid have low toxicity (approximately similar to table salt with the lethal dose being 2 to 3 grams per kg) and therefore do not require special precautions while handling.

I can't understand your rant. Are you talking about boron gas or borosilicate glass (pyrex)? How would either be formed by using nano-boric acid as a fuel lubricant. And what would be the mechanism for harm from either one?

P Schager


Please don't argue with Rafael about my comment. I realize greencarcongress' format is confusing.

Boric acid in the fuel would surely be dehydrated in the cylinders to form boron trioxide, above 500 deg C where it forms a sticky glass mist. It will not be a gas until 1680 C by which point parts of your engine would be. It also dissolves in water; I don't know if the moisture from the exhaust at idle will turn it back into boric acid. In any case at best it will shorten the interval between ash cleanings of the diesel particulate filter, which are by law (US) required to be at least 150K miles so it will make those devices bigger.

Some will get past the DPF and so the city air will be injected with boric acid. This isn't high on the toxicity list for an inorganic new air pollutant, but you have to have a good reason before you add any new, unnatural pollutant. I would have thought silicon oxide fine particles would be even less of a concern than boron oxide in the air but they have been established as a health hazard. Boric acid has a list of toxicology issues. It would take a ton of research to prove boron environmentally safe for this. But avoiding the adding of 2% biodiesel/vegoil to the fuel or a Lubrizol hydrocarbon alternative lubricity additive is not a reason.

As a motor oil additive you will have this issue in miniature because of engine oil consumption. Already they had to revise motor oil for DPF's to remove ash-generating additives that were there to neutralize acid in the motor oil. Now we're adding acid to the motor oil?

The provocation here is that the fuel additive product is being promoted as an environmental benefit. Fuel pump friction is insignificant for efficiency even if there weren't adequate alternatives, and sulfur has already been removed from the fuel in civilized countries and replaced. I expect more from a government lab than I do from a commercial enterprise before I hear an announcement that a product is on a hot track, because their imprimatur should carry a lot of weight.


It looks like an earlier version of this technology is already available as "Motor Silk". They even refer to Ali Erdemir by name.

Rick Dragos

This is a very old article prior the licence Obtained by ALT. Presently the formulation of many lubricants are used throughout industry e.t. Railroads, Oil Rigs, Cold Stamping, Fluid Systems, etc. For updated information go to

Sandeep Kapoor

Sandeep Kapoor

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thanks for posting such a cnie article .

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