A Nottingham-based company is aiming to drive a step change in the volume and efficiency of industrial nanoparticle production.
With the help of a raft of new funding, Promethean Particles will also investigate how to produce exotic particles that have so far proved too costly to make commercially.
The company is the lead partner in the €9.7m (£7.8m) EU SHYMAN project (Sustainable Hydrothermal Manufacturing of Nanomaterials) and has also recently attracted £500,000 in private investment.
‘Nano has not made as big an impact as it should have done,’ said Prof Ed Lester, technical director at Promethean. ‘But the reasons for this are that the production methods are still developing and people are trying to use not-so-good particles in the final product and they just aren’t performing, and that’s why we’re not seeing the quantum leap people predicted.’
The company’s reactor technology uses a process known as continuous hydrothermal synthesis to produce inorganic nanoparticles suspended in water as an aqueous dispersion. As the particles flow out of the reactor they are in dispersion and are never handled as dry powders, thus avoiding agglomeration.
Also, many dry technologies use plasmas or high-temperature flames to burn out organics, so they tend to be quite energy intensive.
Promethean currently produces around 10 tonnes of nanoparticles a year at its Biocity Nottingham facilities, including products such as titanium dioxide, which can be used in photocatalysis and pigments. It will now look to move to a larger site at Highfield Science Park and increase production to 100 tonnes per year and more.
‘The biggest challenge with this technology is mixing these two fluids, you’ve got a superheated fluid and a cold fluid that contains metal ions and the trick is how you mix them continuously, symmetrically and in a controlled way. What we don’t know is how that mixing dynamic changes at larger scale and faster flow rates,’ Lester said.
The company will look to improve the energy efficiency of its process by recycling water used in the reactors and coming up with novel heat-exchange mechanisms.
In addition, Promethean will attempt to find a viable production method for metal organic framework nanoparticles, which can be used for hydrogen fuel storage and CO2 capture.
‘These are two really big challenges for the future sand we can make it in our rig continuously at scale, which we think is pretty exciting,’ Lester said.