Green Base Oils for Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants

Basudeb Saha, founder of RiKarbon, and Chinmay Pawar, Scientific Officer, in the RiKarbon laboratory

Green Base Oils for Environmentally
Acceptable Lubricants

UD startup RiKarbon awarded $1.049M in Department of Energy funding

According to a 2010 study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, up to 16 million gallons of petroleum lubricants per year—the equivalent of about one and a half 1983 Exxon Valdez-sized spills—are washed off into marine ports, posing a significant threat to water resources and fragile aquatic ecosystems. Growing concern for the environment has prompted the search for safer alternatives to petroleum-based lubricants by government agencies, environment advocates, and end users.

RiKarbon, a startup company which originated from founder Basudeb Saha’s research at CCEI, an energy frontier research center housed at the University of Delaware and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is working towards a greener solution. Recently the company was awarded $1.049 million in funding from the DOE’s Water Technologies Office Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to produce environmentally beneficial lubricants. The company is utilizing abundant renewable carbon sources to produce products that will increase sustainability and minimize adverse effects on the environment.

With the funding, RiKarbon will work to produce environmentally acceptable biolubricants for several applications with a high risk of accidental leakage and disposal of conventional lubricants. One such application is hydropower production. Lubricants consist of approximately 75 to 90 percent base oil with balance being additives. Environmentally acceptable lubricants are commonly classified according to the environmental efficacy of base oil used. The research team at RiKarbon combines commercially accessible low carbon number bio-molecules from natural oils, such as vegetable or coconut oil, with those from plant material, such as corn husks, wood chips and grasses, to produce high carbon number base- oils to use as renewable alternatives to typical petroleum-based base-oils in lubricant formulation. Importantly the technology has the ability to produce base oils with tunable specifications for various applications and can potentially minimize the use of additives in the formulated lubricants. “Our biolubricant products from sustainably sourced carbon have the ability of mitigate regulatory challenges of equipment operators, lubricant formulators and end-users for applications possessing high risks of accidental discharge. In addition, our products will promote environmental ecosystems and minimize the carbon footprint,” said Saha.

Pawar working in the RiKarbon laboratory

The DOE funding will allow the RiKarbon team—currently comprised of three people—to develop continuous production process, scale up products for formulation and qualification for its first targeted application. The company expects additional high value applications of products along the journey and looks forward to continued team growth with the need for a process engineer on the horizon.

RiKarbon is housed at Delaware Technology Park on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus, a state-of-the-art laboratory incubation space with access to resources required by development-stage companies to drive and accelerate their business. The incubation space offers secure, private laboratories along with shared space for meetings, collaboration, and with equipment for use by all incubator tenants. The RiKarbon private laboratory is equipped with reactors and infrastructure for its specific research and development. In the coming months they expect new pieces of laboratory equipment to boost their biolubricant production.

RiKarbon was founded in 2018. The same year, the company received $150,000 in funding from the DOE’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, the maximum in their topic area. The funding enabled the team to develop their product on a small scale. The highly competitive SBIR/STTR programs are U.S. Government programs, intended to help select small businesses conduct research and development. The DOE SBIR/STTR projects must have the potential for commercialization and meet specific DOE mission-specific research and development needs.

“RiKarbon is thankful to DOE for the award and opportunity to continue development of its innovative products to make a significant societal impact,” said Saha.

Learn more about RiKarbon here
Learn more about the DOE SBIR/STTR programs here