Nanofiber production may become cheaper due to a new development. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have effectively utilized a less expensive commercially available 3D printer to develop a microfluidic nozzle to produce nanofibers.
The 3-D printed device enables the production of uniform nanofibers that can be configured into a variety of meshes. According to the researchers, using the 3-D printed device to produce nanofibers will also help avoid the need for clean rooms and it will make the process cheaper.
Luis Fernando Velasquez-Garcia, of MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories, and two postdoctoral students reported this development in the latest issue of Nanotechnology.
The new microfluidic device consists of an array of small nozzles through which a fluid containing particles of a polymer is pumped. The emitters in the new device are “internally fed.” They have holes bored through them, and hydraulic pressure pushes fluid into the bores until they’re filled. Only then does an electric field draw the fluid out into tiny fibers.
MIT reports that the new device matches the production rate and power efficiency of its best-performing predecessor but reduces variation in fiber diameters, which can be an important consideration for most applications.
Nanofibers are basically produced by “controlled chaos” that, in a way, leads to variability in fiber size and less uniformity of the web. There is a “self-assembling” process when the fibers are dispersed by electric field and collected on collectors such as screens. Patterns are obtained based on the nature of the collector.
A few years back, Thandavamoorthy Subbiah, working our laboratory, effectively handled the self-assembly process to develop honeycomb-like PU nanofibers.
Nanofiber production techniques are evolving to have high productivity and have better control of the fiber and web uniformity. MIT’s 3D device is a step in the right direction.
Seshadri Ramkumar, Ph.D., is a professor in the Nonwovens & Advanced Materials Laboratory, Texas Tech University.