September 2018 SPRAY 39
While these materials were in almost all
cases from bio-renewable sources, their utility as
lubricants still offered room for improvement in
efficiency, stability and availability. As developments
in industrialization, farming and other aspects
of both commerce and social organizations
proceeded, the need for more useful lubricants,
in more diverse forms for specialized uses, were
Petroleum-derived products have been known
throughout history. Tars, sometimes called pitch,
were known for use as caulks in the seams of
wooden boats. Tars had also been used as weapons,
perhaps even as the ship-burning weapon
known as Greek Fire. However, the pitches and
tars used were available only where petroleum
products were leached onto the surface. Even
where they were available, they were in relatively small supply.
The first purposefully built petroleum well in the U.S. is the
Drake Well (Figure 2), in Titusville, PA, completed in 1859. Previously,
Figure 2: The Drake Well
petroleum had been a by-product of salt brine wells. The availability
of a steady source of supply, with concurrent developments
in petroleum chemistry and refinery design and operations, led to
developments in materials that supported the Industrial Revolution.
From petroleum came various solvents and base oils that had
advantages over the previously used materials. These products
had much longer shelf-lives as they were no longer susceptible
to rancidity. Base oils themselves could be produced in various
viscosities for light lubrication. Their high boiling points meant
they would not evaporate under common working temperatures.
In combination with other additives, they became greases for high-
speed applications. With the addition of other, extreme pressure
additive chemicals, equipment capable of handling multiple tons
For many years, the understanding of lubricants and lubricant
technology was scattered over many chemical and engineering specialties.
It was only formalized and integrated among all sciences
on March 9, 1966 with the publication of what is known as The
Jost Report. Overseen by Peter Jost, a British mechanical engineer,
the report is the first use of the term “Tribology,” defined as “The
science and technology of surfaces in relative motion to each
The Jost Report and Tribology combined the disciplines of chemistry,
engineering, physics and material science to not only take the
idea of managing friction to a more sophisticated level, including
the standardization of existing test methods for lubricant evaluation,
but also look at how design and maintenance of equipment
1. Surface wear, impacting surface and equipment duration
by minimizing the effect of asperities in surfaces moving
against each other;
2. Forming a barrier layer to oxygen in the atmosphere,
minimizing rust development;
3. Lower maintenance costs;
4. Lower energy costs; and
5. Effect on engine and motor efficiency, from proper
lubrication, on GDP.
The combination of improved surfaces and improved lubricants
and its effect on economy can be seen in the evolution of the automobile
industry. Whereas 1916 oil levels and transmission fluid
levels had to be checked daily, and changed every
100 miles, by 2015 no one checked fluid levels
on a daily basis anymore and motor oil needed
changing every 7,500 miles.
While much of the recent work on lubricants
targets industrial and automotive areas, household
lubricants have become a necessity in the
last century from the proliferation of devices and
home appliances needing lubrication. However,
as houses are valuable investments, the idea of
grease buckets or drums of oil being kept and
used around the house to lubricate a squeaky
hinge was an unfavorable idea to homeowners.
The concept of convenience was a more palatable
resolution to lubrication problems.
Drip oils (such as the 3-IN-ONE brand, a
WD-40 Co.) have been around for more than
130 years, but consumer preference for more convenient,
more efficacious, more easily handled
products, continued to drive product development. An important
marriage of formula and product design occurred in the 1950s.
WD-40 was developed by Rocket Chemical Co. and was joined
with the aerosol product form to offer consumers a product that
has convenience, controlled and targeted delivery, multi-purpose
efficacy, very long shelf-life, a package that is resistant to contamination
as well as recyclable.
Many products now vie for the consumer lubricant market.
All have to supply what consumers seek and all have to comply
with the myriad and ever-changing regulatory environment. The
California Air Resources Board (CARB), charged with monitoring
and improving the state’s air quality, continues to put limits
on allowable volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for different
product categories. Also in California, the Office of Environmental
Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) reviews chemistries for
safety, placing those deemed dangerous on the California Prop 65
list (Prop 65 is a law intended to provide California residents with
information about compounds in the environment around them
that might be harmful).
Petroleum-derived products in particular can contain Prop 65-
listed chemicals. Many companies make extreme efforts to source
these raw materials without Prop 65 contaminants. Other companies
will simply place the Prop 65 warning on their labels.
Product revisions driven by regulatory changes impact cost,
often affect product efficacy and in many cases consumer perception
of the product. These issues will continue to impact product
design for the foreseeable future.
Lubricant products continue their evolution, reacting to market
requirements, special technical requirements or consumer preferences.
Efficacy continues to be the prime driver of product acceptance.
Consumers, especially in the household market (sellers and
end-users) will call for specialty lubricant products (with a push
for “Green” lubricants), but these often fail because of efficacy or
cost considerations. Materials will continue to develop. Ceramic
materials, metals with polymer coatings and nano-particle composites
have surfaces that have almost eliminated asperities. However,
while the need for friction-reducing lubricants may be minimized
in the future, the need for lubricants supplying extreme pressure
lubrication, penetration and water displacement will continue to
be needed. SPRAY
The author credits Mike Counts, WD-40 Co. R&D, for his original research
on The Jost Report.