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Shell Lubricants Technology: The Science of Grease Manufacture

Shell Lubricants Technology: The Science of Grease Manufacture

Manufacturing grease is a complex
chemical and physical process with multiple stages. It is critical to get this process
right, so the properties of
the finished grease are suited to the demands of real-world use. Shell’s technology centre in Hamburg
provides valuable insights into the science of
grease manufacture, ultimately supporting tailored
performance in the field. Building on these strong foundations, Shell and Imperial College London
founded the University Technology Centre
for Fuels and Lubricants in 2013. The Centre matches Imperial College’s
technical capabilities with Shell’s research needs. Over a dozen PhD and
postdoctoral research projects are funded by Shell, bringing academic insights
to real-world challenges. Recently, Shell and Imperial College
started a new joint project on the science of grease manufacture. A grease consists of soap filaments
inside an oil matrix, and the structure of these filaments
determines its finished properties. During the cooling and
crystallisation stage of manufacture, the shearing forces experienced
by the soap filaments impact on their shape, size
and distribution and therefore on the characteristics
of the grease. Studying this process on a lab scale
helps to identify how the choice of
stirred cooling kettle impacts the grease’s structure. The research models the complex
fluid dynamics within the kettle. A laser illuminates the particles
and the flow patterns. These are recorded and analysed so the mechanics can be quantified
and evaluated for different speeds and temperatures,
to find the optimum conditions. The science is captured here, using
ultra high speed filming techniques. Different rotational speeds clearly
demonstrate differences in flow. From this work with Imperial College, reliable, predictable scale-up
rules can be developed. This will help to ensure that future
generations of greases developed by Shell
can offer excellent protection and help optimise service life.

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