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Nano Particle Synthesis
There are several methods for creating nanoparticles, including both attrition and pyrolysis. In attrition, macro or micro scale particles are ground in a ball mill, a planetary ball mill, or other size reducing mechanism. The resulting particles are air classified to recover nanoparticles. In pyrolysis, a vaporous precursor (liquid or gas) is forced through an orifice at high pressure and burned. The resulting solid (a version of soot) is air classified to recover oxide particles from by-product gases. Pyrolysis often results in aggregates and agglomerates rather than single primary particles.
A thermal plasma can also deliver the energy necessary to cause vaporization of small micrometer size particles. The thermal plasma temperatures are in the order of 10,000 K, so that solid powder easily evaporates. Nanoparticles are formed upon cooling while exiting the plasma region. The main types of the thermal plasma torches used to produce nanoparticles are dc plasma jet, dc arc plasma and radio frequency (RF) induction plasmas. In the arc plasma reactors, the energy necessary for evaporation and reaction is provided by an electric arc which is formed between the anode and the cathode. For example, silica sand can be vaporized with an arc plasma at atmospheric pressure. The resulting mixture of plasma gas and silica vapour can be rapidly cooled by quenching with oxygen, thus ensuring the quality of the fumed silica produced.
In RF induction plasma torches, energy coupling to the plasma is accomplished through the electromagnetic field generated by the induction coil. The plasma gas does not come in contact with electrodes, thus eliminating possible sources of contamination and allowing the operation of such plasma torches with a wide range of gases including inert, reducing, oxidizing and other corrosive atmospheres. The working frequency is typically between 200 kHz and 40 MHz. Laboratory units run at power levels in the order of 30–50 kW while the large scale industrial units have been tested at power levels up to 1 MW. As the residence time of the injected feed droplets in the plasma is very short it is important that the droplet sizes are small enough in order to obtain complete evaporation. The RF plasma method has been used to synthesize different nanoparticle materials, for example synthesis of various ceramic nanoparticles such as oxides, carbours/carbides and nitrides of Ti and Si (see Induction plasma technology).
Inert-gas condensation is frequently used to make nanoparticles from metals with low melting points. The metal is vaporized in a vacuum chamber and then supercooled with an inert gas stream. The supercooled metal vapor condenses into nanometer-sized particles, which can be entrained in the inert gas stream and deposited on a substrate or studied in situ.
Nanoparticles can also be formed using radiation chemistry. Radiolysis from gamma rays can create strongly active free radicals in solution. This relatively simple technique uses a minimum number of chemicals. These including water, a soluble metallic salt, a radical scavenger (often a secondary alcohol), and a surfactant (organic capping agent). High gamma doses on the order of 104 Gray are required. In this process, reducing radicals will drop metallic ions down to the zero-valence state. A scavenger chemical will preferentially interact with oxidizing radicals to prevent the re-oxidation of the metal. Once in the zero-valence state, metal atoms begin to coalesce into particles. A chemical surfactant surrounds the particle during formation and regulates its growth. In sufficient concentrations, the surfactant molecules stay attached to the particle. This prevents it from dissociating or forming clusters with other particles. Formation of nanoparticles using the radiolysis method allows for tailoring of particle size and shape by adjusting precursor concentrations and gamma dose.