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Commercializing Nanotechnology

Published on 2004-11-26. Author : SpecialChem

Chemical nanotechnology is unlocking new dimensions in the commercial production of nanostructured materials. In collaboration with the Institute for New Materials (INM) in Saarbrücken, Buhler is conducting research into customized solutions.

Nanoscale powders are made up of particles in the size range of one millionth to about 200 millionths of a millimeter. When applied selectively in materials engineering, they provide hitherto unsurpassed material properties and a wide variety of combinations. For this purpose, Buhler has joined forces with the INM in Saarbrücken. The INM is a leader in the development of nanostructured materials and their commercialization. Buhler as an international Group at the forefront of technology is contributing its vast size reduction and dispersion process expertise to this collaboration venture. Together, the partners plan to commercialize chemical nanotechnology on a broad basis. This means that customers can benefit from the potential offered by nanotechnology in extremely diverse fields of application.

Materials with novel properties

Nanoparticles are 20 times smaller than the wavelength of visible light. As a result, they will scatter light only to an insignificant extent. This opens up entirely new perspectives for optical materials and for the paint and coatings industry. In telecommunications and in the field of data storage, the quantum effects of nanoparticles can be utilized for producing innovative materials. As a result of the large surface area created during the processing of nanoparticles, new fields of application are unlocked for making catalytic converters, membranes, or low-sintering ceramics. The large boundary surface enables polymer nanocomposites to be produced with novel properties. On a commercial scale, nanoparticles are currently applied in suntan lotions and for increasing the lightfastness of polymer components. Due to their specific surface area, they are also widely used as fillers in the paint and printing inks industries.

Controlled surfaces

The surfaces of the particles must be controlled so that the individual particles will prefer to remain suspended in the binder or vehicle rather than combining with other particles. Fillers, one of the important areas for applying nanoparticles, are frequently inorganic hard materials which it is basically not possible to combine with organic binders. In practice, they typically occur in an agglomerated form. They must therefore be detached from one another (disagglomerated) before their surfaces can be chemically treated to be controlled. The dispersers – bead mills – from Buhler and Buhler-Drais have proven to be just the right equipment for this purpose. In the printing inks and paints industries, additives have long been used to wet and thereby stabilize fillers and pigments. For plant suppliers, this produces new challenges: Increasingly smaller grinding media in the bead mills must separate the nanoparticles. To achieve this, the energy input as well as the size reduction mechanism must be carefully matched to the material to be dispersed and to the specific application. This process can only be nanoscaled by adding new chemical concepts. Such approaches as those that have been researched and tested by the INM for years now are the challenge that Buhler accepts as a technology leader: For example, the reaction speed of the additives has to be matched to the particle size; the chemical compatibility must be precisely adjusted to the binder and all the other components; and the volume of the additive molecules is not allowed to conceal the individual particles or to form bridges between them. Because so many product-specific characteristics have to be taken into account, Buhler is developing the new, tailor-made processes in close cooperation with customers to ensure that they can exploit the full potential of nanoparticles in their products.

Source: Buhler

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