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In-line characterisation of nanoparticles using a combination of analytical techniques in real time

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Process monitoring to spur new product development

Novel in-line process-monitoring technology, previously non-existent, will provide manufacturers with information about nanoparticle (NP) size, number and chemical composition. It promises to revolutionise design, development and production.

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NPs have become ubiquitous, used in fields from coatings to electronics to biomedicine and energy. While nanotechnology and new product development is experiencing exponential growth, process-monitoring technology is lagging behind. Real-time, in-line monitoring of nanomaterials (NMs) during manufacturing is currently not possible, despite the plethora of characterisation tools and techniques available for offline analysis in a laboratory setting. A novel system under development by EU-funded scientists working on the project 'In-line characterisation of nanoparticles using a combination of analytical techniques in real time' (IN-SIGHT) promises to fill the gap. The IN-SIGHT platform will analyse chemical composition and structure of NPs as well as their number, size, shape and mobility throughout the production process consisting of precursor, NP, incorporation into a novel formulation and finished product. Further, it will be capable of offline, online and in-line analyses. Scientists developed two different technologies for the determination of NP shape and mobility. The first employs an optical microscope with a microfluidic flow cell, and the second a modified laser light scattering microscopy technique with an automated liquid-handling system. Well established spectroscopic techniques were exploited to determine the structure and composition of NPs in liquids. The setup detected a variety of NPs around 5 nanometres in size and elucidated their chemical composition, including doping concentrations (amount of other compounds present) and core–shell ratios (compositions consisting of a shell surrounding a different core material). Investigators are employing ultrasonic spectroscopy, currently able to measure the size distribution of sub-micron–size silica particles in water, to count the NPs in particle dispersions and determine their sizes. Finally, scientists are developing a data analysis framework combining the multiple measurements from all instruments to obtain an optimal estimator of properties. IN-SIGHT is developing online and in-line analytical tools for NP processing that currently do not exist. The system will enhance the quality, consistency and yield of NMs while facilitating the faster development of new products and designs. In short, it will provide a step-change in the competitive position of EU manufacturers and the EU economy as a whole.

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