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GEA Niro has helped to solve the problem of how nanotechnology can be used industrially, taking into account health, safety and environmental protection.

A team from the company has developed a method that makes it possible to bind suspended nanoparticles in a granular form to minimise the risk of handling particles.

This makes it possible to produce finished products that exploit the properties found in nano-structured materials in a safe environment.

The work has been done within the framework of the EU-funded development project SAPHIR – Safe and Controlled Integrated Production of High-tech Multifunctional Materials and their Recycling.

By using nanotechnology, industrialists hope to develop a range of products, including: car windows that don’t steam up; paint and dyed substances that don’t fade when exposed to light; fabrics that reject dirt and stains; and super-high-strength, lightweight industrial components.

The project aims to develop new methods of production and use nanoparticles to manufacture a range of products based on their characteristics and advantages.

The SAPHIR project requires nanoparticles to be used in controlled processes, without exposing people to health risks or damaging the environment.

It includes 22 partners, who are working to produce products that exploit the properties of nanoparticles.

Michael Wahlberg, head of the GEA Process Engineering Test and Development Centre, said: ‘Our goal in GEA Process Engineering in participating in this research and development project from the outset, was to utilise and further develop our proven technology in spray drying to produce granules that bind nanoparticles.

‘Preliminary results confirmed our own expectations.’ He added: ‘Our technology makes it possible to produce non-dusty granules in a very safe manufacturing process.’ With GEA Process Engineering’s new method, nanoparticles are hoped to become safer and easier to handle.

According to the company, the granulation technique will find its greatest uses in contexts where a liquid form is not appropriate.

For example, there will be opportunities for automakers, aircraft manufacturers and other industries where the correlation between strength and weight balance is critical.

GEA Process Engineering involvement in the SAPHIR project has built on its process-industry expertise, in sectors including chemistry, pharmaceutical, and beverage and food.

The technology used for immobilising nanoparticles is inspired by the drying technology used by GEA Process Engineering for the granulation of pigments and carbide powder.

Until now, handling nanoparticles in a manufacturing process has been a problem because the particles are difficult to control.

In their dry form, the nanoparticles have a low density, are electrostatic and have airborne and surface properties that make them difficult to use on an industrial scale.

Their impact on health and the environment are unknown, so it’s been necessary to bind them into a liquid form for industrial use or storage.

In many cases it is not possible to produce finished goods based on suspended nanoparticles.

By binding nanoparticles into stable granules it is possible to control them in subsequent production processes.

The new method creates granules with very stable and controlled properties that allow granulated nanoparticles to be used directly in industrial production.

It has been a key success criteria for researchers that nanoparticles, bound in a granular form, retain their specific properties while remaining immobile.

There is good economical sense in using spray drying for the immobilisation of nanoparticles in a granular form, the company said.

Since the granules are safer and easier to handle, the total production costs for the production of finished goods is lower than it would have been had the production been based on nanoparticles in dry form.

Transportation costs of nanostructured granules are also reduced significantly compared to the transport of suspensions of nanoparticles that typically cannot be obtained in high concentrations.

The SAPHIR project is in line with GEA Process Engineering’s strategy, including focusing on delivering technologies that enhance customers’ plant efficiency and environmental sustainability.

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