The Challenges Behind Scaling Up Nanomaterials

Nanomaterials can be found in a wide range of products ranging from drug delivery solutions to high-definition electronics. They are vital to industrial and academic research due to the unique features generated from their small size and consequent high specific surface area. However, when nanomaterials have been scaled up for mass production in the past, they have faced several technological and financial problems.

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Role of Nanomaterials in Different Industries

Many disciplines and industrial areas, including information systems, national security, health, communication, power sector, food security, and climate change research, have been significantly enhanced, if not reinvented, by nanomaterials. 

Nanomaterials facilitate the production of reusable, long-lasting “smart fabrics” fitted with elastic nanosensors and processors capable of healthcare monitoring, solar energy collection, and power generation through movement. Nanoparticles are also increasingly being employed in catalysis to speed up chemical processes. This minimizes the number of catalytic materials required to achieve the desired effects, cutting costs and lowering pollution.

Nanotechnology is also expanding the range of medical instruments, information, and medicines accessible to practitioners. Nanomedicine is the use of nanomaterials to provide efficient results for preventive care, diagnostics, and treatment.

Scaling up Nanomaterials: Importance and Challenges

To replace existing materials with nanoparticles with better capabilities, there is a need for mass production of nanomaterials. Nanoscience provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to comprehend physiochemical phenomena at the most fundamental level. In theory, this information should be useful in improving and optimizing a structure under investigation.

Despite these basic achievements, nanotechnology is experiencing a significant barrier. This is because converting scientific findings published in the research journals into industrial technology applications is still a major challenge.

The issue is multifaceted. First, the characteristics of materials alter when scaled up, just as they do when downscaled to the nanoscale; specifically, the amount of control that can be exercised at the nanometer scale tends to diminish at the meso- and macro scales.

Second, the industry is hesitant to spend heavily on developing new large-scale techniques for nanomaterial manufacturing unless a sizable profit is assured. The dilemma is particularly important in applied sciences since there is a gap between laboratory and industrial-scale research.

Industrial Manufacturing of Nanomaterials Vs Lab Manufacturing

To make nanomaterials in a lab, a researcher must first mix many chemicals, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. These traditional procedures are utilized to make most nanoparticles used in research investigations in small quantities. Although small quantities are fine for early investigations, they impede the translation of successful innovations into commercial applications.

There are two primary ways for fabricating and producing industrial nanoparticles: bottom-up techniques, which build up molecule by molecule, and top-down techniques, which transition raw materials to the nanoscale.

Top-down procedures entail splitting up, tearing, and cleaving bigger raw materials into nanoparticles.  Advanced lithography and etching methods may be utilized to not only remove content but also shape nanoparticles to produce a certain surface. Stereolithography, nanopatterning, electron beam lithography, ion beam etching, and subsurface reactive ion etching are some examples of these top-down methods.

Bottom-up procedures are those that construct the atomic structure from the ground up by placing atoms under certain circumstances to create the desired configuration. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD), physical vapor deposition (PVD), and atomic layer deposition (ALD) are three of the most used bottom-up processes. Other chemical synthesis techniques include plasma-assisted production, condensation, electrochemical deposition methods, and aerosol techniques.

Commonly used Nanomaterials in Industry

Metal oxides, particularly silicon dioxide (SiO2), titanium dioxide (TiO2), alumina (Al2O3), and iron oxide (Fe3O4, Fe2O3), are currently the most economically important inorganic nanoparticles used in industry. Metal oxide nanomaterials are used in electronics, pharmaceuticals, skincare, biochemistry, and catalysts. Bottom-up techniques are employed to create metallic-oxide nanoparticles. The elimination of transition metals in dilute solutions is a common mass production technique used for these nanomaterials.

Another nanomaterial used widely in the industry, especially electronics, is quantum dots. A quantum dot is a tiny particle of matter whose characteristics are altered by the introduction of a single electron. Quantum dots are made up of a few hundred atoms of semiconducting material that, when stimulated, produce light at varied wavelengths depending on their size, making them particularly valuable as biological indicators of cell activity.

Gold nanoparticles are widely used in the healthcare industry. Foreign item penetration normally causes cell damage or death, yet these particles may pass through cellular membranes without causing harm. As a result, they are great carriers of medication to normal tissues or radiation to malignant cells.

The most common synthetic technique for producing gold nanoparticles is the reduction of metal salt in suspension with the assistance of a modifier. A wide range of reductants and modifiers have been discovered, allowing for the production of vast quantities of nanoparticles. However, the cost of producing gold nanoparticles is USD$80,000 per gram, while a gram of raw gold costs just USD$50.

Leading Technologies for Scaling up Nanomaterials

One company, Cerion utilized a technique called DFM, standing for design for manufacturing. This method employs a phase/gate approach to simplify, optimize, and improve the nanomaterial – all while preventing incursions that might impede scale-up or raise production costs. The technique takes a comprehensive approach to all essential commercial, scientific, technical, environmental, supply chain, and logistical issues that influence the nanomaterial’s final cost.

In another breakthrough, University of South California researchers have discovered an automated production technique that can improve the time-consuming batch approach now in use. The procedure employs 3D manufactured tubes with a diameter of just 250 micrometers. The scientists put four parallel tubes to the test by passing non-mixing substances like oil and water through each one. As the fluids struggled to push through the pipes, nanoparticle droplets developed at the apertures.

The Langer group at MIT has devised a technique for producing gram amounts per hour of highly repeatable lipid polymer nanoparticles.  This approach has the potential to be a strong tool for advancing nanotechnology toward therapeutic use. This technology can also be used to create a wide variety of nanoparticles with various medicinal payloads.

Conclusion

Scaled-up production can be an efficient and cost-effective strategy for the manufacturing of nanomaterials for different industrial applications. However, the transfer of a nanomaterial from the laboratory to the industrial environment should follow a meticulously choreographed procedure to guarantee that cost-effective materials can be produced.

Continue reading: Nanoparticle Manufacture – What Methods Are There?

References and Further Reading

Cerion. (2022). Nanomaterial Scale-Up. Retrieved from Cerion: https://cerionnano.com/scale-up/

Charitidis, C. A., Georgiou, P., Koklioti, M. A., Trompeta, A.-F., & Markakis, V. (2014). Manufacturing nanomaterials: from research to industry. Manufacturing Rev. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1051/mfreview/2014009

Mazari, S. A., Ali, E., Abro, R., Khan, F. S., Ahmed, I., Ahmed, M., . . . Shah, A. (2021). Nanomaterials: Applications; waste-handling; environmental toxicities; and future challenges – A review. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jece.2021.105028

Mitchell, M., Billingsley, M., Haley, R., Wechsler, M., Peppas, N., & Langer, R. (2020). Engineering precision nanoparticles for drug discovery. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41573-020-0090-8

Perkins, R. (2016, February 24). Here’s a way to produce nanomaterials on a larger scale. Retrieved from USC News: https://news.usc.edu/92312/heres-a-way-to-produce-nanomaterials-on-a-larger-scale/

Trofimencoff, T. (2016, March 23). Mass Production of Nanomaterials. Retrieved from engineering.com: https://www.engineering.com/story/mass-production-of-nanomaterials


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