Functional nanocapsules development and production

Author: Sara Fernandes, Regina Malguiero, CeNTI

The Centre for Nanotechnology and Smart Materials – CeNTI – is a private, non-profit R&D institute in the north of Portugal with a multisectoral focus and cutting-edge technology. CeNTI promotes research, technological development, innovation and engineering activities in the fields of nanotechnology, advanced materials and smart systems, exploring breakthrough technologies that enable the development, testing, prototyping and scaling of nanotechnology solutions for industry, focusing on the sectors: “Automotive and Aeronautics”, “Construction, Architecture and Smart Buildings”, “Health, Protection and Wellbeing” and “Energy and Decarbonization”.

CeNTI’s participation in the BIONANOPOLYS project focuses, among other things, on the production of bionanoadditives, i.e. functional nanocapsules for the controlled release of active ingredients that can be used in various fields.

From an industry perspective, biomaterials are readily adopted if they offer functional properties for high-volume applications and better performance than fossil materials. In this sense, transforming biobased materials to the nanoscale is an important strategy to address this challenge by providing them with new properties needed in many sectors, such as larger specific surface area to solve the problem, high aspect ratio, and improved mechanical, thermal, rheological, optical, barrier, and active properties. Therefore, biomaterials could be a key sector for achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050.

The production of most capsule systems uses fossil-based polymers for the encapsulating shell, as well as toxic organic solvents in their processing. As such, the development of encapsulated systems at a nanoscale using natural and bio-based materials, as well as greener solvents, and through low environmental impact processes, is a promising approach to address the referred problematic.

In Bionanopolys, Pilot Plant (PP) 5 is comprised of several equipment for the preparation of functional nanocapsules at a pilot scale, such as:  10L capacity reactor, recirculation systems for mixtures homogenization, heating or cooling systems, rotary evaporator that can work in continuous mode, centrifuge, and freeze-dryer. This PP focuses on nanocapsules obtained from cellulose derivatives with essential or vegetable oils encapsulated, guaranteeing the solution sustainability, but similar raw-biomaterials systems can also be used. The encapsulation methods are focused on nanoemulsions; however, they can be easily adapted to other types such as ion gelation, coarcervation or even in-situ polymerization. The final materials can be obtained in aqueous dispersion or in dry state.

The obtained bionanoadditives can be used, for example, in coatings for textile industry, to give new or improved functionalities to nonwovens and fabrics (i.e., antimicrobial, etc), turning them into added-value products in a sustainable and efficient way.

Picture credits: Pixabay