Israeli startup manufacturing ultra-sophisticated nanolubricant

The company aims to mix the nanolubricant with traditional lubricants at first so they will be more effective and last longer. An Israeli startup, founded by a researcher with a background at Weizmann Institute of Science and a prominent financier, …

The company aims to mix the nanolubricant with traditional lubricants at first so they will be more effective and last longer. An Israeli startup, founded by a researcher with a background at Weizmann Institute of Science and a prominent financier, has developed a solid industrial lubricant that they say is six to ten times more effective than regular lubricants.

The new product, developed by New York-based Applied Nanomaterials at Weizmann laboratories in Rehovot, Israel, can be used for various high-end friction-reducing applications, such as on the outer coating of ships and airplanes, to reduce water and air friction, and on satellites, to eliminate the need for astronauts to repair stuck mechanical arms, or reduce the need for radio-controlled fixes. The automobile and military industries are other target applications.

The lubricant never wears down and requires no maintenance. It can stand on its own as a lubricant; however, Applied Nanomaterials is pitching the product as an additive to existing lubricants in order to gain recognition of the technology from manufacturers.

The product has an onion-type molecular design, which is a multilayered hollow structure of nested spheres. According to the company’s founders, Aharon Feuerstein and Dr. Menachem Genut, such a structure reduces friction in a manner similar to millions of nano-sized ball bearings.

The molecular layers that make up the lubricant are built from tungsten disulfide. The layers slide past each other, reducing friction, while the hollow cores provide flexibility. The company says the materials act as solid ball bearings between metal layers, like the wheels of a tank tread. In addition, the nanostructures insert themselves within each metal layer, while other nanostructures slide over them, creating a smooth layer at the molecular level.

Prior to founding Applied Nanomaterials, Feuerstein worked at the Israeli Ministry of Finance and Union Bank of Israel, and as a private consultant. Genut had a research background in special materials, semiconductors and manufacturing and founded Oramir Semiconductor Equipment, which was sold to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials last year.

Genut helped come up with the technology for the new lubricant while doing post-doctoral work at Weizmann Institute. While at Weizmann, he participated in the discovery that molecules known as fullerenes could be created by molecules other than carbon. Fullerenes, named for American architect R. Buckminster Fuller who developed the geodesic dome, are a hexagonal spherical form of carbon molecule, along with slate and diamonds.

Fullerenes are considered the strongest molecules to build resilient nanostructures, but carbon fullerenes are extremely difficult to manufacture, and Genut determined that non-carbon-based alternatives would be needed if the technology were to be developed for commercial uses.

Applied Nanomaterials was launched to commercialize Genut’s research with a $1 million investment from Newton Technology Partners, which has an option to invest an additional $2 million within a year.

Applied Nanomaterials’ competitors are developing similar materials, but based on nested nanotube structures that over time tend to disintegrate under friction from the materials they lubricate, Feuerstein and Genut said.

Applied Nanomaterials manufactures its nanolubricant powder at Weizmann Institute’s chemical reactor, but is now building a semi-industrial reactor that will make 750 grams of powder a day. The company plans to build numerous reactors at its Rehovot plant, instead of a single giant reactor, to meet growing demand.

Feuerstein said Applied Nanomaterials is now raising $5 million to finance the building of reactors and accelerated marketing. The company’s business model is based on strategic partnerships and the licensing of its technology, both generically and for joint development of applications.