VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is developing new techniques for the
production of metallic nanoparticles. VTT’s new production reactor, operating
at atmospheric pressure, reduces the production costs of multicomponent
particles. It enables the production of metallic nanomaterials, which are not
yet commercially available, for research and product development needs.
The most significant applications for metallic nanoparticles currently have to
do with the utilisation of their optical and magnetic properties, conductive
inks and catalysts – and these are also the primary areas of focus in the
related development work. In the future, optically transparent coatings will
make it possible to replace precious metals with copper in, for example, solar
cells, opto-electronics, and diagnostics.
Also in the manufacturing of conductive inks, the major focus of interest is
the replacement of silver with copper, which is significantly cheaper. In this
field, the small size of the particles affects, for example, their sintering
properties, stability of the inks, and printability.
The magnetic properties of metallic nanoparticles are considerably stronger
than those of oxides, which are currently being used in the industry. In
addition, the use of alloy metals makes it possible to customise particle
properties to meet the needs of each application. Potential applications
include, for example, data storage, magnetic polymer composites, sensor and
machine actuators and, in the long term, even the treatment of illnesses.
Since VTT’s new reactor operates at atmospheric pressure, its construction and
usage costs are low. The process is continuous, and affordable source
materials can be used. The wastage rate is low, while the produced powders are
pure. The reactor is particularly well suited for the production of alloy
metal nanoparticles. The particle coating protects the particles from aging
during handling and storage, also making it possible to combine organic
compounds with metallic particles.
Ari Auvinen, Principal Scientist at VTT, reckons that the next
nano-innovations from Finland will be related to conductive inks, magnetic
polymers, and catalysts. Commercial production of particles also creates
interesting business ortunities. ”3D printing is currently in increasing
demand, and in the coming years, the demand for metallic materials suitable
for use with printers is also likely to arise,” Auvinen says.
Besides commissions from companies, VTT uses its equipment for public research
projects. A special development project is the combination of nanoparticle
technology with printing and sensor technologies.
Media material: photo