New generation of nanoporous organic and hybrid aerogels for industrial applications: from laboratory to pilot scale production
The main objective of NanoHybrids is the development of a pilot scale production system for a new generation of nanoporous organic aerogels with multiple functions. These find application in a wide range of industrial sectors such as gas and humidity adsorption, personal care and in food. However, to realise this exploitation, the manufacturing process time needs to be reduced and made more stable. The key to this is the ability to produce organic aerogel particles in defined form and in sufficient quantity. The challenge is to ensure the high porosity and internal pore size distribution of the particles in order to provide the structural properties needed for the targeted applications.
NanoHybrids aims to establish technology to produce organic aerogel particles in industrial quantities. The aerogels produced in this way will be used for building and testing prototypes for different applications.
Aerogels are low-density, highly porous nanostructured solids. Aerogels were invented in the 1930s and are can be principally obtained by drying almost any kind of wet-gels under conditions that preserve their volume. These conditions usually involve converting and venting off the pore-filling solvent in form of supercritical fluid. That process eliminates all surface tension forces that would collapse the nanostructure during a simple evaporative drying. To reach achieve such drying, elevated pressure is required. The resulting aerogels possess very high mesoporous volume and specific surface area, what results in a very low density and thermal conductivities, high acoustic attenuation, and further spectacular properties.
Aerogels being known as the lightest solid materials, have a tremendous potential in a wide range of applications, where high pore volume and high surface area play major roles.
In the last decades it was shown, that a number of different organic precursors (biopolymers) can be utilized to produce aerogels from sustainable sources and with specific functions that can be successfully used in different emerging areas.
Since applications in adsorption (gas and humidity filters), personal care (cosmetics) and food additives do not require monoliths, but rather spherical particles (microparticles, granules) of specific size and controlled porosity, direct production of aerogels in such a form is decisive for opening these markets for organic aerogels.
Currently the manufacturing of organic aerogels is mainly restricted to monoliths. Production of aerogels in the form of particles is developed on the lab scale for some polysaccharide aerogels. In this project this technology will be extended to other aerogel types and firstly transferred to the pilot scale. Thereby the properties of the particles will be tailored for the targeted applications. This concept is schematically shown below in the figure.
First field: Particle size and scalability
The existing technology for production of organic aerogels as monolith will be adopted for the production of aerogel particles with the particle size distribution, required by the specific application. Thereby different strategies for particle production will be evaluated with the special focus of their scalability to the pilot and production scale. Each technology should be tested at 3 scales as small scale (1 L), medium scale (30 L) and pilot plan.
Second field: Hybrid materials
For many industrial applications a combination of different properties is needed.
For instance, high capacity adsorption and good mechanical properties are required in the same material. This can only be achieved by developing hybrid materials which combine the specific properties of each “single” aerogel. In this way a combination of at least 2 essential properties (e.g. high hydrophobicity, good mechanical strength and high uptake of a target compound) could be achieved: multifunctional hybrid aerogels.
All aerogels produced will be used to build corresponding prototypes and will be tested in industrial environments for the applications in adsorbents for CO2 and humidity, adsorbents for dangerous gases, consumer goods and food additives.
NanoHybrids aims to prove the technical and economic viability of nanoporous materials in the form of organic and hybrid aerogels. Attainment of this goal will open up new markets for aerogels.
- Construction and building (e.g. thermal insulation)
- Transport, filtration and purification (e.g. mechanically resilient nanoporous filter systems)
- Biomedicine (e.g. wound dressings, controlled release delivery systems, excipients)
- Sensors (e.g. highly sensitive gas sensors)
- Chromatography (e.g. supercritical chromatography)
- Consumer goods and personal care (e.g. bio-based, biodegradable cosmetics additives)
- Food technology (e.g. bio-based, biodegradable high-capacity aroma carriers)
- Agriculture (e.g. biodegradable and high-capacity pesticide, herbicide or fungicide controlled release systems)
NanoHybrids started 1 November 2015 and runs until 31 May 2019 and is funded by the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 Call “Manufacturing and control of nanoporous materials“ (H2020-NMP-PILOTS-2015). The project brings together 12 research institutes and industry partners from France, Germany, Greece, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and the UK.