John B. Christian, Inventor

John B. Christian - Inventor of New Lubricants

John B. Christian, who was born in 1927, was working as an Air Force engineer when he invented and patented new lubricants, used in high flying aircraft and NASA space missions. The lubricants worked well under a wider temperature range than previous products, from minus 50 to 600 degrees.

The lubricants were used in the helicopter fuel lines, astronaut's backpack life support systems, and in the four-wheel drive of the "moon-buggy."


Christian's specific patents are:

  • 6/30/1970 #3,518,189 - Grease composition for use at high temperatures and high speeds.
  • 10/27/1970 #3,536,624 - Grease compositions of fluorocarbon polyethers thickened with polyfluorophenylene polymers.
  • 5/12/1981 #4,267,348 - Fluorine-containing benzimidazoles.
  • 6/12/1984 #4,454,349 - Perfluoroalkylether substituted phenyl phosphines.

More About Lubricants

A lubricant is a substance that reduces friction between two surfaces, which ultimately reduces the heat generated when the surfaces move against each other. Lubricants can also transmit forces, transport foreign particles, or heat or cool the surfaces. Reducing friction is known as lubricity.

Along with industrial uses, lubricants are used for many other purposes, including cooking (oils and fats used on frying pans and in baking to prevent food from sticking), and for medical uses on humans such as lubricants for artificial joints and ultrasound exams.

Lubricants generally contain 90 percent base oil (most often mineral oils) and less than 10 percent additives. Vegetable oils or synthetic liquids such as hydrogenated polyolefins, esters, silicones, fluorocarbons and many others are sometimes used as base oils. Additives help lessen friction, increase viscosity, improve viscosity index, help resist corrosion and oxidation, aging or contamination, etc.

Millions of tons of lubricants are consumed worldwide. Automotive applications are the most common, but other industrial, marine and metalworking businesses are also big users of lubricants. Although air and other gas-based lubricants are known (e.g., in fluid bearings), liquid and solid lubricants dominate the market.

Lubricant Applications

Lubricants mainly are used to:

  • Keep moving parts apart
  • Reduce friction
  • Transfer heat
  • Carry away contaminants & debris
  • Transmit power
  • Protect against wear
  • Prevent corrosion
  • Seal gases
  • Stop the risk of smoke and fire of objects
  • Prevent rust

One of the main uses for lubricants, in the form of motor oil, is protecting the internal combustion engines in motor vehicles and powered equipment.

Lubricants such as  2-cycle oil are added to fuels such as gasoline which has low lubricity.  Sulfur impurities in fuels also provide some lubrication properties, which has to be taken into account when switching to a low-sulfur diesel; biodiesel is a popular diesel fuel additive providing additional lubricity.

Another approach to reducing friction and wear is to use bearings such as ball bearings, roller bearings or air bearings, which in turn require internal lubrication themselves, or to use sound, in the case of acoustic lubrication.

Disposal of Lubricants

Approximately 40 percent of all lubricants are released into the environment. There are many ways to dispose of lubricants including recycle, burn, put in a landfill or discharge into water. Typically, disposing in landfills and discharging into water are strictly regulated in most countries. Even the smallest bit of lubricant can contaminate a large amount of water.

Burning the lubricant as fuel, typically to generate electricity, is also governed by regulations mainly on account of the relatively high level of additives present. Burning generates both airborne pollutants and ash rich in toxic materials, mainly heavy metal compounds. Thus lubricant burning takes place in specialized facilities.

Unfortunately, most of the lubricant that ends up directly in the environment is due to the general public discharging it onto the ground, into drains and directly into landfills as trash.