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Electrospinning: a Fascinating Technique to Create Polymeric Nanofibers

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(Credit: Electrospinning: a Fascinating Technique to Create Polymeric Nanofibers) Electrospinning: a Fascinating Technique to Create Polymeric Nanofibers
August 3
9:35 AM 2020

The properties of nanometric structures in the form of fibers, tubes, tapes, rings, rods and cables open up a fascinating panorama. We will refer to all of them with the generic name of nanofibers. They have the capacity to form highly porous materials that are showing enormous potential to significantly improve current technologies, and find surprising new applications.

What is electrospinning? 

In general, the process of obtaining polymeric fibers involves spinning, in which a molten or solution polymer is passed through a nozzle at a certain speed and temperature. This conventional fiber formation process involves stretching the material to increase its modulus and strength.

These conventional production techniques allow fibers with diameters ranging from one thousandth of a millimeter to several millimeters. While fibers of these sizes are used in many applications, there are new ones that require diameters from tens to hundreds of nanometers.

In the last fifteen years, a novel technique has been explored to generate polymeric fibers in the submicron range (below the micron, the thousandth of a millimeter), which is called electrospinning and which is more known by its English name, electrospinning. 

Electrospinning process constitutes a simple and highly versatile way for the production of nanofibers, in 1934 when Anton Formhals made the first patent that describes the electrowinding of polymers. This technique produces continuous filaments with a diameter range of ten to one hundred times less than those obtained by conventional methods. These are deposited forming a membrane or non-woven mesh, which we call nanofiber material.

Nanofibrous materials have better properties of their final products compared to those obtained from conventional fibers. This is due not only to the nanometer diameter but also to the extremely high surface / volume ratio and small pore size obtained by fiber overlap. These structures are highly porous and interconnected pores, generating dynamic systems in which - unlike conventional rigid porous structures - both pore size and shape can vary.

From a suitable choice of the material to be processed, matrices can be obtained with a unique combination of a high specific surface area and excellent mechanical properties in proportion to weight (flexibility, toughness and tensile strength).

Furthermore, due to their low density and high pore volume, these materials are suitable for a myriad of applications spanning biomedical devices, such as controlled release systems for drugs and active ingredients, and tissue engineering; Consumer products such as clothing, cleaning and personal care products; To industrial products of catalysis, filtering, barrier and insulation, energy storage, fuel cells, capacitors, transistors, battery separators, optics and nanowires for nanoelectronics applications, composite fibers for material reinforcement, information technology and applications of High technology in the aerospace sector.

The production of nanofibrous materials by electrospinning has important advantages over conventional methods for obtaining fibers such as dry, wet, melt or sol-gel spinning. These are: 

  • Produces continuous micro / nanofibers that generate a highly porous three-dimensional matrix.

  • Can process different materials (natural or synthetic, biodegradable or biostable, hybrid, ceramic or composite polymers) in different geometries.

  • Produces fibers with nanometric or submicrometric diameters, not reached by traditional techniques. 

  • The membranes obtained have a very high specific area, great flexibility, capacity to incorporate active agents and additives.

  • It is very versatile since it allows an effective production in time and cost that can be carried out on an industrial scale.  

 What are its applications?

Among some applications they are present in various fields such as:

  • Biomedical: with functional tissues and biological tissue materials, in various parts of the body.

  • Drugs and cosmetics: devices for controlled release of the drug in the specific place.

  • Environment: physical adsorption capture membranes for air and water purification.

  • Biotechnology: its utility in protein purification, synthesis and enzymatic catalysis (membrane bioreactors).

  • Textile: High efficiency filters, coalescence and aerosol filters.

There is no doubt about the important contribution that materials science, nano and biotechnology will make in the coming years for the development of new and interesting functional devices, therapies, monitoring and diagnostic methods. The applications of nanofibrous materials are diverse and surprising, and in particular in the biomedical area they grow exponentially. Most of these applications are still in their infancy.

In the near future, the studies that are carried out today will leave the academic scope of the laboratory and begin its production stage. The effort that is made worldwide for the development of materials and technologies, added to multidisciplinary research, will once again revolutionize the quality of life of man.  

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