The new technology – a single-step method for producing ‘smart’ microcapsules using fluid droplets – is said to have potential commercial applications in food, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals, among others.
Developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, and published in prestigious academic journal Science, the team behind the new technology promises that the ‘one-step’ microcapsules offer several advantages over currently used techniques.
Speaking with FoodNavigator.com, Dr Oren Scherman from the department of chemistry at Cambridge explained that the fluid technology used by the new platforms means that microcapsules have little variation in terms of size, and are “highly reproducible and scalable.”
“I think that the fundamental advance that we have taken is the ability to both formulate the capsule and encapsulate cargo in a single step, so all the molecules and components are dynamically assembled simultaneously,” said Scherman, who was one of several researchers from the University of Cambridge involved in the platform’s development.
“We have on demand capability for release, and you can also have whatever you want as far as capsule size, or cargo, all in a uniform structure,” he said, noting that he was sure that there was “a lot of opportunity within the food manufacturing and production domain.”
“Because it’s a platform technology, it has a lot of applicability to many diverse areas, and I think that is something we are keen to explore through contact current leaders in the field,” added the expert.
Scherman explained that the platform the technology uses manipulates incoming streams of water and oils emulsions: “You have three fluid aqueous based streams coming together, and when they hit a non-aqueous stream at the 90 degree angle it sheers off little droplets.”
By controlling the ratios of the different streams and the ratios of the inlets, you can gain very uniform droplet sizes, he said.
Using this process Scherman told this publication that not only are all the capsules the same size and structure, but also, that the same amount and concentration of the ‘cargo’ ends up in each capsule – allowing users to make “quantitative loading of cargo , on demand,”
The Cambridge chemistry expert added that the properties of the capsules themselves – in terms of stability and release profiles – would largely depend on the end user applications, noting: “If you want something on a time release then that’s something that is easy to obtain, or perhaps if you want a stimuli-response release then that’s also easy to select,” he said.
“If you want to build in an Achilles heel in which the capsules are not robust or are sensitive to certain conditions then that is absolutely possible, but on the other hand if you want to build steadfast and robust material then you can,” he confirmed.
The research team said the technology could have a multitude of uses, with Scherman adding that there was “lots of opportunity” in the food and nutrition industries: “We can use this for flavours, scents, active ingredients, live cultures – all with potential for different release mechanisms if they are needed,” he expanded.
Scherman also said the technology platform is immediately scalable, noting that although for the study the team produced microcapsules at the rate of around 300 second, “the micro-fluidic platform really allows you to tune this rate of formation from tens per second to thousands or tens of thousands per second – maybe even more.”
“So the scalability here is something that is quite impressive,” he confirmed.
He added that another ‘great thing’ about the microcapsules produced in this way is that they can be dehydrated and the later rehydrated without affecting the chemistry of the capsule: “You can dry them down and the rehydrate them ... which allows you to have tremendous applications when you think about transport of cargo.”
Volume 355, doi: 10.1126/science.121541
“One-Step Fabrication of Supramolecular Microcapsules from Microfluidic Droplets,"
Authors: J. Zhang; R.J. Coulston; S.T. Jones; J. Geng; O.A. Scherman; C. Abell