ENGINE OIL EVOLUTION: FROM ANCIENT TO INDUSTRIAL TIME
There are various types of equipment around us that require oil or lubricants other than cars and motorcycles. Oil has been around for a long time – even longer than we may know. As a specialist in oil manufacturing, TotalEnergies has accumulated deep knowledge on the history of oil – from their early version, invention, to their modern-day evolution until they are available as high-performance products that we rely on today to keep motor engines in their prime condition.
Even in the ancient time people needed some version of oil to reduce friction, keep surfaces in mutual contact cool, and prevent wear. When bearing was invented, they realized they needed something to make bearings worked smoothly and efficiently.
The first bearings could be traced back to the Copper Age (4,500-3,300 BC) in Mesopotamia, where they were used for the wheels of horse carts made of clay. No archeologic evidence was found about the use of oil during that time, but it can be assumed that the people used water, animal fat, or perhaps even blood to reduce friction of wooden parts.
In 2,000 BC in Egypt, it was found that Egyptians poured fluid to cart rails that were used to transport statues. Meanwhile, olive oil was used to lubricate wooden wheels to transport gigantic rocks for the pyramids.
Those were the times of horse-led carts and archeologic evidence of wheel axles from 1,400 BC shows that the wheels have calcium soap deposit, which indicates the presence of oil in Ancient Egypt. In a different part of the world, bitumen was found from the period of Ancient China. Bitumen, which appeared to be extracted from dirt on the ground, was used to lubricate clay wheels.
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Ancient Greeks and Romans created oil by mixing lime with olive oil (calcium oil) to lubricate wheel axles. Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) described in his writings how carts’ wheels were lubricated with olive oil mixture that was boiled to create viscosity.
In the mid-century, the father of invention Leonardo da Vinci introduced the next evolution in lubrication. His ideas were founded upon his theory of friction coefficient, namely that friction force depended linearly on the normal load, and he came up with the equation of (u= FIW). He also concluded that “every frictional body has a resistance of friction equal to one quarter of its weight” which remains consistent in modern experiments.
To reduce friction, da Vinci created a lubrication system for wheel axles, using bearings. He would use animal fat or opium oil – two widely available ingredients in Italy at the time.
In Sweden, during the pre-industrial era, Swedish used leeches to lubricate wooden wheels. Children would collect leeches from the forest and this practice was still alive as early as the beginning of the 20th century.
The 19th century marked the start of the industrial revolution. Oil exploration projects succeeded in capturing crude oil that then replaced other natural sources of lubrication. It also marked the golden years of lubrication technology.
At first, crude oil wasn’t popular due to its poor lubrication properties. This changed in 1869 when vacuum distillation was invented and was further revolutionized in early 20th century when the technology to separate the contents of crude oil became available.
In the 1920’s, by separating crude oil components, oil producers were able to manufacture antioxidant, anti-corrosion, and viscosity additives. They became commercially available in the 1930’s and 1940’s along with the boom of the railway industry. In the 1950’s, synthetic oil was developed for aviation and space exploration needs, followed with multi-grade oil for vehicles. The industrial era gave birth to oil manufacturing technologies that we have today.
Currently, most oil production benefits from complex chemical compounds developed to generate the best results. They include lab-made synthetic formula and the production of additives that are capable to address a variety of engine problems.