Pasha Rudenko started his materials science doctorate at Washington State University in 2009 with one goal: to make lubricants safer.
“Lubricants are just a mixture of base oil, most often mineral or synthetic, or vegetable oil and additives,” said Rudenko, whose undergraduate degree is in materials science for nuclear reactors. “(The) toxicity of lubricants comes from additives. So developing a new generation of industrial additives that are safe for the environment was the primary objective of my research.”
Rudenko tried a variety of materials, such as gym chalk, graphite and baby powder in the form of nanoparticles to achieve his results. But while testing these materials, he found a unique outlier, a material that had to be synthesized in a pure form.
“It behaved unlike any other materials (we’d observed). The structure of it is not just lamellar like graphite or molybdenum disulfide, but, structurally, each flat flake has different sides,” he said.
One side of the material was more chemically active and attached to a surface, while the other side was more chemically inert to reduce friction.
“Its behavior was beautiful,” Rudenko said.
He received a Small Business Innovative Research grant from National Science Foundation to prove his methodology. He believed his product could improve the efficiency and durability of existing vehicles by improving gas mileage, reducing engine noise and increasing acceleration. But companies were slow to adopt what he calls TriboTEX.
“We all want our cars to be reliable, but they inevitably wear out,” he said. “Some drivers would like to make their engines younger and tighter. This is what we offered in a simple, easy-to-use syringe.”
Carl Holder of Richland, who works closely with Rudenko, said they needed to raise about $10,000 to take the product to market. They launched a Kickstarter campaign in February 2017 to cover some of the marketing costs and packaging while offering customers industrial-grade material for their cars.
They beat the goal by more than $140,000.
“We were kind of in shock,” Holder said.
By July, the company had shipped out more than 8,000 units, and the public responses have been dramatic.
“You can look at our Facebook page and see some of the things people are saying. The obvious things, like the increased miles per gallon, the sound of the engine—the quietness,” Holder said.
TriboTEX comes in a syringe and is injected into the oil. It costs $99 and creates a coating and can last upward of 40,000 miles.
On a broader level, TriboTEX aims to help reduce carbon emissions. Holder said the typical car in the United States is 11.5 years old.
“If you really want to make an impact on emissions, you need to go inside those cars that are the worst offenders,” Holder said. “And the worst offenders are what we address with this product.”
Rudenko and Holder recently visited with Gov. Jay Inslee to showcase the product and its capabilities. As an example, Rudenko affixed a sticky note to the wall explaining that the product itself has two sides—a sticky side and a slick side. The sticky side sticks where there is friction. By eliminating friction, you can save energy that is otherwise wasted, said Holder.
It’s not just the governor who’s paying attention to TriboTEX.
The company received a TechConnect 2017 National Innovation Award, and in August, the business was invited to attend the American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Washington, D.C., and had its attendance, membership and display booth subsidized.
“To be recognized by the American Chemical Society at the annual convention, that’s a hell of a deal,” Holder said.
A number of trucking companies are currently using the project as part of an evaluation.
“These companies know to the tenth-of-a-mile their engine efficiency, and if we can improve that for them, they will be customers,” Holder said.
The company is also studying the product in large diesel engines used for mining.
During Water Follies hydroplane racing in Tri-Cities this year, TriboTEX was injected into the gearbox of the Miss HomeStreet.
It takes about 500 miles for results of the product to be achieved, Holder said.
After the injection, the boat went on to win the Seafair Cup in Seattle and the gold cup in Detroit.
“The last race is in San Diego,” Holder said. “At the end of the season, we’ll be able to take apart the most used gearbox and determine how it looks to see what they liked. All this stuff is new to us, but we certainly hope it’s making a difference.”