SPONSORSHIP AWARD: An engineering network to address challenges in microreactor processing for scale up of nano-material synthesis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Chemical Engineering


This project combines expertise in different areas of engineering towards one of the main current scientific challenges: the large-scale production of nanoparticles to enable their implementation in areas of drug delivery, sensors, healthcare and bio-imaging, catalysis, energy storage, water treatment, etc.

The discovery of the unique chemical and physical properties of particles with nanometre sizes and their potential applications is slowly transforming our world. However, their large-scale manufacturing is still in its infancy with an urgent need for a manufacturing technology capable of the continuous production of nanoparticles, overcoming the current limitations associated with size control and agglomeration.

In this project we plan to combine experience in reaction engineering and catalysis (Torrente, Bath), fluid flow control (Sharma, Southampton) and advanced materials characterization (Haigh, Manchester). Uniting different expertise and research interests will enable us to identify alternative approaches to overcoming current challenges in the micro-reactor field.

Planned Impact

This award will develop a UK-centred network towards enhancing capabilities in the use of micro-reactor technology for the large-scale production of nanomaterials. The unique properties of nanomaterials have been shown to be beneficial in a wide range of applications including medicine, sensors, healthcare and bio-imaging, chemical catalysis, energy storage, and water treatment. At this point the production of nanomaterials is largely confined to low yield processing routes at the laboratory scale. To realise the great benefits to society that nanomaterials can bring, we need new large-scale manufacturing technologies capable of continuous production for industrial applications. This award seeks to build a network with the necessary skills and research expertise to create a platform upon which this goal can be realised. The success of this award will impact the project team and UK industry as well as society as a whole.

UK Industry
Self-cleaning glass, barrier coatings, drug delivery, and gas sensors are just a few examples of products where the unique properties of nanomaterials have led to new products. The importance of this technology is highlighted by the presence of many successful UK spin-out companies that specialise in the synthesis of nanomaterials (such as Nanoco, www.nanocotechnologies.com, and Velocys, www.velocys.com). However, the use of nanomaterials in an industrial context is often limited by the difficulty of obtaining reliable materials with reproducible properties. By improving access to nanomaterials with an improved size distribution this project will directly benefit UK industry, generating potential for products with greater profitability and improved performance.

Improving the profitability of UK industry benefits the economy as well as driving job creation. Additional societal benefits will come from the potential of nanomaterials to reduce cost and increase the effectiveness in the many application areas which benefit mankind including sanitation, health care and energy production and storage. A further advantage could be the reduced pressure on raw materials, specifically precious metals, since nanomaterial products typically require a smaller volume of material to achieve the same properties as for larger scale systems.

Project Team
The investigators involved in this award will themselves benefit from enhanced national and international presence, interaction with industrial collaborators, academic experience and knowledge base. This will improve their ability to lead their growing research groups and to make the best use of the investment that the UK government and each of their individual institutions have made in their careers so far. The mentors will benefit from interaction with less experienced academics through access to a complementary skill set. The project will also provide the mentors with an opportunity to try new research ideas and directions which are not directly aligned with their central research areas. Partners to the award will have the opportunity to benefit from the combined skill set of the team involved in the award as well as to strengthen links to UK research.


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Description This sponsorship award enabled the creation of a small interdisciplinary network between early career academics bringing together chemical engineering, fluid dynamics and advanced material characterisation expertise. As intended, it served as an ideas creation forum to enhance our initial network and support This small grant allowed us to hold a symposium entitled "Metal nanoparticles: manufacturing and characterisation - what's next?" in September 2015 at the University of Bath bringing together a range of academics and industry. Connections developed have leveraged into further collaborations with Johnson Matthey and a number of national and international groups
First Year Of Impact 2015
Description EPSRC Early Career Fellowship
Amount £956,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L020432/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 10/2019
Description Johnson Matthey 
Organisation Johnson Matthey
Department Johnson Matthey Catalysts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We are providing a new technology ofr the manufacturing of taylor catalysts with control on nanoparticle size and dispersity.
Collaborator Contribution Advice Industrial expertise Steering direction of research
Impact JM has strongly supported our latest proposal for the renewal of the NanoCDT in Cambridge
Start Year 2018
Description Sarah Haigh (Manchester) 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This award has contributed to the establishment of this collaboration. Our contribution was in the area of material and nanoparticle production and Haigh's group is contributing with their expertise in microscopic characterisation.
Collaborator Contribution This award has contributed to the establishment of this collaboration. Our contribution was in the area of material and nanoparticle production and Haigh's group is contributing with their expertise in microscopic characterisation.
Impact Reaction engineering, material synthesis and advanced characterisation techniques
Start Year 2013