Enabling manufacturing of Functional Nanomaterials

  • Zimbitas, Georgina (Researcher)
  • Sefcik, Jan (Principal Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


The global demand for nanomaterial, which is already a multi-billion$ industry, will have grown this year 2.5-fold since 2012. Current nanomaterials production methods are at least 1000 times more wasteful when compared to the production of bulk and fine chemicals. Consequently there is an urgent need to develop green production methods for nanomaterials which can allow greater control over materials properties, yet require less energy, produce less waste (i.e. eco-friendly) and are cost-effective. Nature produces more than 60 distinct inorganic nanomaterials (e.g. CaCO3, Fe3O4, silica) on the largest of scales through self-assembly under ambient conditions (biomineralisation). Although biological methods for nanomaterials synthesis (e.g. using microorganisms or complex enzymes) are effective in reducing environmental burden, they are expensive, inefficient and/or currently not scalable to industrial production. We will adopt a synthetic biology (SynBim) approach, which is one of the EPSRC's core strategic themes, by harnessing the biological principles to design advanced nanomaterials leading to novel manufacturing methods. SynBim is a very powerful tool for the production of high-precision advanced functional nanomaterials and our approach marries two of the "8 great technologies for the future" ("Synthetic Biology" and "Advanced Nanomaterials"). Instead of using cells or microbes, our SynBim strategy uses synthetic molecules (SynBim additives) inspired from biomineralisation. SynBim produces a wide range of well-defined and tunable nanomaterials under mild (ambient) conditions, quickly and with little waste. Our SynBim approach offers the potential for high-yields, like the traditional chemical precipitation method, together with the precision, customisation, efficiency and low waste of biomineralisation.The bulk of research on bioinspired synthesis of nanomaterials has been performed at small scales and, although there are good opportunities for developing nanomaterials manufacturing based on bioinspired approaches, there are no reports on larger-scale investigations. Adopting a bioinspired SynBim approach, this project will enable the controlled synthesis and scalability of silica and magnetic nanoparticles (SNP and MNP) which are worth ~$11 billion globally. These methods are far more amenable to scale-up and can truly be considered 'green'. This SynBim process can reduce the manufacturing carbon footprint (by >90%), thus providing a significant cost benefit to industry.

Layman's description

"Green" synthesis inspired by nature is implemented here to not only produce nanoparticles of importance, but to also upscale their manufacture turnover and to tailor their properties, all the while reducing the carbon footprint of the production when compared to current modes of manufacture.
Effective start/end date1/12/1630/06/21