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25 January 2022

What are nano particles?

What is a nanoparticle and how are they made? nano.10⁻⁹ looks at this in-depth and shows the science behind a nanoparticle.

Nanoparticles are tiny microscopic particles between the size of 1-100 nanometers or (nm). To put this into context, a single human hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometers thick.

If you look at your fingernail for five seconds, you’ve just watched your nail grow five nanometers in length. At this tiny size, nanoparticles behave completely differently from the normal-sized particles you are used to. It is this behaviour that makes nanoparticles so special and the reason why nano.10⁻⁹ can improve your plant yields and quality.

How are they made?

Nanoparticles are relatively easy to make since any particle that comes under the 100nm range is a nanoparticle. The hard part is getting a nanoparticle that is relatively small (under 50nm) and making the size consistent, in each batch.

Firstly, we can produce nanoparticles using the ‘top-down’ method, which is the one generally used by companies to produce nanoparticles. This involves using mechanical procedures like grinding, to produce particles in the high end of the nanoscale (+50nm). This method has been used for many years to produce fine flour and turning sugar crystals into icing sugar. The types of machine used to achieve this are called attrition ball mills, planetary ball mills, vibrating ball mills, a low energy tumbling mill and a high energy ball mill. The problem (for certain industries) with this method is that it lacks uniformity and getting below 60-50 nm is very difficult. This is where bottom-up manufacturing comes into its own.

‘Bottom-up’ nanoparticle synthesis means building up a particle from atoms or the molecular components of the product you want. There are many types of bottom-up methodologies that produce small (below 50 nm) particles whilst keeping strict uniformity (+\- 5 nm), but they produce varied types of nanoparticles and puts them into different forms at the end of the process. The different forms will react differently in a range of pH, temperatures, pressures, solvents etc, so it’s important to pick the correct method of production to suit the job that the nanoparticle will be used for.

Generally, nanoparticles in the bottom-up process are made by combining two solutions under a variety of conditions such as atmospheric pressure, gaseous environment alteration (Nitrogen or Argon), temperature, pH and retention time, which is simply the time that the materials have together, and the shorter the time the smaller the particle.

Originally, the first method used to produce nanocrystalline metals and alloys was via gas condensation. This is a technique where a metallic or inorganic material is vaporised using thermal evaporations like a furnace or in more advanced methods, electron beam evaporation devices where ultra-fine particles are formed by collisions of evaporated atoms with residual gas molecules.

One of the most well-known methods for nanoparticle production is via chemical vapour deposition (CVD). In this method, a solid is deposited on a heated surface through a chemical reaction (in the vapour or gas phase) using an external energy source such as a laser. The opposite method to this is chemical vapour condensation (CVC), which uses vapours of a metal-organic precursor that undergoes pyrolysis (decomposition through high temperatures) in a reduced pressure atmosphere.

One of the most recent techniques is via chemical preparation. This method precipitates nanoparticles when two precursor solutions are added together, this is called co-precipitation. The particles are formed in a liquid and the precipitate can be centrifuged, washed and dried or filtered. This method gives really good uniformity and allows particles to be made on the lowest scale of nano. An adaption of this method is called sol-gel which is the introduction of a colloidal suspension known as SOL and gelatine (GEL) to increase the retention time of the two precursor solutions. A catalyst is used to start the reaction which then goes through 4 stages;

  1. Hydrolysis

  2. Condensation

  3. Growth of particles

  4. Agglomeration of particles

During the hydrolysis phase, acceleration can be achieved by adding a catalyst such as hydrochloric acid and ammonia. The rate of hydrolysis is also affected by pH and the concentration of the reagent. Control of these parameters along with controlled ageing and drying makes it possible to vary the structure and properties of these nanoparticles making them suitable for a variety of applications.

Why is this important?

Nanoparticles represent a big step forward with how we use fertiliser in agriculture and hydroponics. We are trying to move away from re-inventing the wheel with traditional fertiliser salts and new ways of marketing a different NPK ratio.

The synthesis of nanoparticles shows that we are moving forward and more importantly, becoming much more efficient when using mineral nutrients. This ties in closely with microbes and how we can reduce fertiliser application with the correct usage and application of microbes to become as efficient as possible.

What does this mean for you?

You can feed your plants with nutrients that require less energy from your plant, to easily absorb the nutrients needed for a successful plant cycle.

The additional energy your plants have will be used for the important aspects growers desire, such as increased yield, oil production, flavour, colours and strength against pests and disease.

Nano.10⁻⁹ harnesses these benefits to give you everything you need to help your plants achieve their best possible results.

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