Current Projects

Influence of Fuel and Lubricant Additives on Friction and Wear in Engines

Researcher: Dr Pauline Cussea

Supervisor: Professor Hugh Spikes, Dr Ian Taylor (Shell)

Sponsor: Shell


Machine-Learning Pattern Recognition Prototype for Liquid Foams

Researcher: Dr Li Shenbubble

Supervisor: Professor Daniele Dini, Dr Tom Reddyhoff

Sponsor: EPSRCShell, PCS InstrumentsAb InBevPespsiCo


This project is an EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) entitled “Machine-Learning Pattern Recognition Prototype for liquid foams”. The IAA grant supports the development of a potentially marketable project to create impact away from a strictly academic setting. The project aims to develop a foaming rig and a Machine-Learning analysis algorithm that will enable a consistent quantitative analysis of the foaming process in beverages and oil lubricants.

Optimized EV Battery Charging and Discharging Profiles

Shell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Michael Parkes

Supervisor(s): Dr Billy Wu

PhD Student: Anna Tomaszewska

Overview & Objectives: Electric vehicles (EVs) are poised to transform future molibility. This project will improve understanding the impact on battrey life of fast and ultra-fast EV charging profiles as well as 'charge while at rest' for grid balancing. Important variables include charge post power, battery chemsitry, cell architecture, and battery management systems. A combination of experiments and models will be used to facilitate optimised battery charging and discharging profiles for EVs.

Start Date: October 2018


The Effect of Shear Stress on Lubricant Behaviour

Shell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Neal Morgan

Imperial supervisor(s): Dr Janet WongProfessor Hugh Spikes

PhD student: Stephen Jeffreys

Overview & Objectives: 

The aim of the project is to investigate the effect of shear stress on lubricant behaviour, particularly in high-pressure high-shear environments such as those found in elastohydrodynamic (EHD) contacts. Here it is critical to gain an understanding of the rheological properties at a molecular level, considering the local structure of the lubricant. Given the severity of operating conditions lubricants can reveal unusual phenomena where the Newtonian assumption may be inadequate. An inaccurate description of the flow limits our understanding of lubricant rheology which affects the ability to theorize novel ways of controlling friction. This impacts the overall goal to manipulate the tribological performance of engineering systems and improve efficiency.

Start date: September 2016

Tribofilm Properties of ZDDP-Containing Oils

Researcher: Mao UedaZDDP

Supervisor: Professor Hugh Spikes

Sponsor: Shell


Zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate (ZDDP) is widely used as an anti-wear additive in engine oils. The tribofilms formed by ZDDP have been extensively investigated using friction and wear tests as well as surface analysis. However, the influence of ZDDP film properties on film durability and ultimately tribological performance remains unclear. The aim of this project is to uncover these relationships, as well as to investigate the effect of co-additives on ZDDP performance.

Tribology of Calcium Complex Greases

Shell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Neal MorganGrease

Supervisor(s):  Dr Phillipa CannDr Marc Masen

PhD Student: Rory McAllister

Overview & Objectives: Electrification of the automotive sector is putting even more emphasis on low-friction bearing lubricants, and the burgeoning battery market has driven up the price of lithium, a raw material in >70% of lubricating greases. There is, therefore, a need to replace the standard lithium grease thickener with a cheaper, equally effective alternative.

This project aims to investigate the performance of novel calcium complex grease formulations provided by Shell. Rolling contact tests will be performed with both lubricant degradation and inlet starvation controlled to emulate realistic bearing conditions. Techniques such as infrared spectroscopy will be used to analyse the rolled tracks in order to understand the mechanisms of grease lubrication.

Start Date: October 2017


Understanding Viscosity Modifier Additive Performance

Researcher: Eliane Gendreau

Supervisor:  Dr Janet WongProfessor Hugh Spikes

Sponsor: Shell


Viscosity modifiers are polymers added to lubricants to control viscosity. Effective viscosity modifiers are crucial in the automotive industry to facilitate the use of base oils with lower viscosity which can reduce hydrodynamic losses and thus increase fuel efficiency. The aim of the project is to investigate how the architecture of polymeric viscosity modifiers affects lubricant rheology. Techniques such as fluorescence spectroscopy will be used to study the effect of polymer architecture on thier temperature and shear responses inside hydrodynamic contacts.

Recent Projects

Fuel-Delivered Friction Modifiers and Their Impact on Friction and Wear

ZDDPShell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Joe Russo

Imperial supervisor(s): Professor Hugh Spikes

PhD student: Joanna Dawczyk

Overview & Objectives: Zinc dialkyldithiophosphates (ZDDPs) have been used as anti-wear additives for over 70 years. They are considered as the most efficient anti-wear additives. The tribofilm generated by the ZDDP is characterized by high boundary friction and it is known that organic friction modifiers can reduce this friction. Since both types of additives are employed together it is necessary to understand both the mechanism of the tribofilm formation and the mutual interaction between these additives. The scope of this PhD project is to study the interaction between the anti-wear film (generated by various types of ZDDP additives) and friction modifiers through the use of a range of lab analytical techniques including:

  • Mini Traction Machine (MTM)
  • Spacer Layer Imaging Method (SLIM)
  • Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)
  • Focus Ion Beam Microscopy (FIB) followed by Ion Beam Erosion
  • Scanning Auger Microscopy (SAM) followed by Ion Beam Erosion
  • Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) followed by Ion Beam Erosion
  • C13 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to determine the structure of Zinc/friction modifier complex

Start date: March 2014

Fuel-Lubricant Interactions in the Combustion Chamber

Viscosity mapShell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Neal Morgan, Dr Renate Utiz

Imperial supervisor(s): Dr Janet WongProfessor Yannis HardalupasProfessor Alex Taylor

PhD student: Jon Dench

Overview & Objectives: The primary aim of this PhD is to develop a method to implement fluorescence spectroscopy, to a gasoline direct injection engine (GDI), to study the composition of the fuel and lubrication mixture in moving ring-pack area. This technique provides an excellent opportunity to determine not only the chemical properties of this mixture but possibly also its temperature and viscosity. In addition, the measurement of the liquid mixture film thickness is possible. Access will be made to the liner using optical fibres in a metal engine, thus ensuring typical engine operating conditions are achieved. Measurements with the fluorescence technique may be complimented with visualisation of the fuel spray in order to understand the physical mechanisms that determine the fuel-lubricant mixture composition on the liner.

Start date: September 2014

Mechanochemical Behaviour of ZDDP


Shell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Neal Morgan

Imperial supervisor(s): Professor Hugh Spikes

PhD student: Dr Jie Zhang (Jason)

Overview & Objectives: 

It has recently been shown that tribofilm formation by the widely-used antiwear additive zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate (ZDDP) is driven by the applied shear stress present in rubbing contacts rather than by the energy dissipated in these contacts.  This means that ZDDP reaction results from the stretching and breaking of molecular bonds under stress, i.e. mechanochemistry; an insight that enables relationships between molecular structure and reactivity to be developed.  This project studies the impact of applied shear stress on ZDDP film formation under both full film and boundary lubrication conditions to support the principle that ZDDP reaction is controlled by mechanochemistry.

Start date: March 2017

Modelling Lubricant and Lubricant Additive Behaviour using Molecular Dynamics Simulations

MD simulationShell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Neal Morgan, Dr Foram Thakkar

Imperial supervisor(s): Professor Daniele Dini, Professor David Heyes,      Professor Hugh Spikes

PhD student: James Ewen

Overview & Objectives: The aim of this project is to utilise molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the friction and flow behaviour of a range of lubricant and additve molecules. Modelling frameworks will be developed which can predict performance of a lubricant with sufficient accuracy to; screen many possible lubricant formulations and, once promising candidates are identified, obviate the need for expensive physical testing. Ultimately, the computer simulation techniques developed could be used to accelerate future lubricant development; yielding more varied, effective, formulations. 

Start date: September 2014

Modelling the Dynamics of Foaming & Antifoaming

BubbleShell technical stakeholder(s): Dr Neal Morgan

Imperial supervisor(s): Professor Daniele DiniProfessor Berent van Wachem

PhD student: Li Shen

Overview & Objectives: Foam dynamics can be summarised into four distinct stages, its formation, drainage, coarsening and eventual rupture. The aim of this project is to understand:

  • The time-dependent dynamics of the foam structure subject to non-linear liquid drainage, rupture and the consequent structure rearrangement using multiphase numerical simulations
  • The physical mechanisms involved in the formation of a large 3-dimensional foam structure due to rising bubbles (this comes from the industrial problem of foaming in lubricants)
  • The coarsening phase of the foam structure exhibiting local fractal behaviour and macroscopic polyhedral packing (Weaire-Phelan structure) using both kinetic and topological models possibly leading to new theories and/or visualisations.

Start date: September 2014

Negating the Effects of Soot on the Wear Properties of Engine Oil

Shell technical stakeholder(s): Mark Southby, Dr Sergio de RooyWear

Imperial supervisor(s):  Professor Hugh Spikes

PhD student:  Artemis Kontou

Overview & Objectives: Soot accumulation in diesel engine oils and more recently in gasoline engine oils can increase the rate of wear in certain engine components. As such this represents an important issue for vehicle manufacturers and lubricant companies to tackle but there are many conflicting theories and mechanisms suggested as to why soot increases the wear rate and how different additive combinations reduce it. The main aim of this PhD project is to study the influence of anti-wear additives and dispersants on soot-induced wear.

Start date: March 2014