The practical application of nanotechnology in the process sectors and their client industries will come to rely heavily on the ability to incorporate nanoparticles into products in a fully dispersed and stable state, whilst still allowing the nanomaterial to fully express its functionality.
The main driver for a new EU Framework 6 sponsored project, PROFORM, is this need to establish design methods for the manufacture of novel dispersed nanoparticulate products, allowing the rapid implementation of processes to manufacture predictable products which meet rigorous quality standards.
Currently, the design of processes that involve the dispersion of micro- and nanoparticles is primarily based on past knowledge rather than fundamental understanding. This constitutes a major barrier to taking a new product to market within a short period of time. Additionally, the waste associated with preliminary “trial and error” type of work and non-optimal processes results in excessive waste production.
The 10-strong partnership brings together a broad scientific foundation (Karlsruhe University, Loughborough University, Birmingham University, Warsaw University of Technology and Poznan University of Technology), technology SME’s (BHR Group, C3M and Rockfield Software) and major international manufacturers (Bayer Technology Services and Unilever UK).
Their work will develop and refine methods for the characterisation of formulation constituents such as particle wettability, porosity, morphology, size distribution, surface free energy, density and aggregate strength, liquid and dispersion rheology and product stability. The processing phase will assess the changes in the liquid phase due to the presence and/or dissolution of particles, investigate the incorporation and dispersion mechanisms of nanoparticles into a liquid, and the mechanical phenomena and fluid dynamics within the processing devices. These will include micro-, meso- and macro- scale hydrodynamics, colloidal stability, and manipulation of the particle size distribution and medium composition.
Development of numerical models incorporating relevant fluid dynamics and related parameters, such as solid and liquid phase properties, will proceed in parallel with the overall aim of understanding the phenomena relating to the processing of nanoparticles.
The output of the project is intended to cover:
• Standard methods and protocols for characterising nanoparticles and their inter-actions with fluids;
• A databank of generic information for characterising these particles;
• Quantification of the performance of a range of process equipment in terms of their de-agglomeration performance for a variety of nanoparticles;
• Mechanistic models describing the incorporation and dispersion of nanoparticles (and aggregates) in a liquid medium;
• Best practice advice on the selection/design of process equipment for different nanoparticle characteristics and chemical product requirements;
• Numerical models for rheological properties of suspensions, kinetics of sub-processes, fluid flow and mixing;
• A baseline for integration of the models into engineering simulation code, including Computer Aided Protocol Engineering (CAPE) tools.