Advanced Applications of Miniemulsion Technology
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Miniemulsion technology is attracting increasing interest for the preparation of nano-size particles. However, the barrier to industrialising miniemulsion-based products is the lack of an energy efficient and scalable homogenisation device. Current laboratory techniques consist of batch units, however trends are leaning towards developing continuous processes. The objective of the work presented here is to investigate the use of the rotor-stator (RS) and static mixers (SM) as homogenisation devices and ultimately develop a continuous emulsification/polymerisation process for the preparation of miniemulsions. Initially we investigated the RS as a homogenisation device and found that we were able to generate droplets ranging from 300 nm to 2 μm, at industrially pertinent solids content. Subsequently, we investigated the use of SM and compared their performance in terms of mean droplet size evolutions with the rotor-stator. We were able to generate droplets < 200 nm in size and polymerise them in a stable fashion. All the available emulsification devices were then compared in terms of power/energy consumption, droplet size distributions and shear rates. It was observed that with energy costs being of similar orders of magnitude, SM imposed less shear, produced relatively narrow distributions and were better adapted to scale-up, making them the optimal choice for miniemulsification. Energy savings were increased by reducing coalescence during the emulsification step by using in situ generated surfactants, ultimately reducing emulsification time. Neutralising a water-soluble base with an oil-soluble acid almost instantaneously generates in situ surfactants at the oil-water interface. The reduction in emulsification time was partially attributed to the elimination of the relatively slow adsorption step typical of preformed surfactants. These results were used to show that emulsifying in situ formulations at moderate flow rates in line with SMX mixers can substantially reduce emulsification time from 30 minutes, with preformed surfactants, to ~30 seconds. With such a rapid emulsification step, it was possible to test the feasibility of the continuous emulsification process followed by polymerisation in a tubular reactor. Comparing this process with a batch operation, similar results for the ratio of NP/ND and conversion were obtained, but the continuous process was accomplished in a single step.