Nanotechnology products could become much more commercially practical thanks to work being performed by engineers at Oregon State University (OSU). Using a new fabrication method, the researchers have been able to increase the production rate of nanoparticles by 500 times, while simultaneously reducing the amount of environmentally-harmful byproducts involved. It’s definitely big news – on a tiny scale.
The OSU engineers are using a microreactor, which is a microfluidic device commonly used for nanoparticle production. What makes their device unique is its “microlamination architecture.” This involves the stacking and bonding of many thin sheets of stainless steel, each one containing thousands of microchannels, to create a “multilayered micromixer.” This results in a higher output volume than the conventional batch synthesis method, with a greater degree of control over the production process.
It had previously been thought that commercial nanoparticle production could be made possible simply by running a large number of conventional microreactors simultaneously. According to principal investigator Prof. Chih-hung Chang, however, “with all the supporting equipment you need, things like pumps and temperature controls, it really wasn’t that easy.”
So far, the system has been used to produce gold-based undecagold nanoclusters, although the researchers state that it could also be applied to other less costly materials, such as copper, zinc or tin. Even in the case of gold, the efficiency of the process could make it a more finacially-feasible nanoparticle source.
The OSU method is reportedly not just a more efficient approach, but cleaner, too. “In part because it’s faster and more efficient, this process is also more environmentally sensitive, using fewer solvents and less energy,” said Chang. “This could be very significant in helping to commercialize nanotech products, where you need high volumes, high quality and low costs.”
The research was recently published in the journal Nanotechnology.