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Plasma Synthesis of Nanoparticles for Nanocomposite Energy Applications
Peter Kong, Idaho National Laboratory, and Alex Kawczak, StrateNexus Technologies, LLC
The nanocomposite energy applications for plasma reactor produced nanoparticles are
reviewed. Nanoparticles are commonly defined as particles less than 100 nm in diameter. Due
to this small size, nanoparticles have a high surface-to-volume ratio. This increases the surface
energy compared to the bulk material. The high surface-to-volume ratio and size effects
(quantum effects) give nanoparticles distinctive chemical, electronic, optical, magnetic and
mechanical properties from those of the bulk material. Nanoparticles synthesis can be grouped
into 3 broad approaches. The first one is wet phase synthesis (sol-gel processing), the second
is mechanical attrition, and the third is gas-phase synthesis (aerosol). The properties of the final
product may differ significantly depending on the fabrication route. Currently, there are no
economical large-scale production processes for nanoparticles. This hinders the widespread
applications of nanomaterials in products. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is engaging in
research and development of advanced modular hybrid plasma reactors for low cost production
of nanoparticles that is predicted to accelerate application research and enable the formation of
technology innovation alliances that will result in the commercial production of nanocomposites
for alternative energy production devices such as fuel cells, photovoltaics and electrochemical
double layer capacitors.
The emerging field of nanotechnology is leading to exceptional understanding and control over
the fundamental building blocks of all materials. At the core of nanotechnology is the ability to
work at or near the atomic level in order to create large structures with fundamentally new and
advantageous structural organizations. Nanoparticles are commonly defined as particles less
than 100 nm in diameter. Due to this small size, nanoparticles have a high surface-to-volume
ratio. This increases the surface energy compared to the bulk material. The high surface-to-
volume ratio and size effects (quantum effects) give nanoparticles different chemical, electronic,
optical, magnetic and mechanical properties from those of the bulk material. Many of the new,
highly advantageous behaviors of nanoparticles, and of bulk materials made of nanoparticles,
are not easily predicted from those observed at macroscales. The most important changes in
behavior are caused not simply by size reduction, but by new properties intrinsic to or becoming
predominant at the nanoscale. These phenomena include quantum confinement or size
quantization and predominance of interfacial phenomena. Understand the basic control of
processing parameters, chemistry, and nucleation processes of nanoparticles should allow
generation of tailor-made nanoparticles of tightly controlled chemistry for a wide range of
applications. The INL has been exploring ways for large-scale and low-cost production of
nanoparticles. The goal is to develop and validate the commercial viability of an extend plasma
heating zone reactor with rapid quench capability for production of low-cost, high-performance
nanoparticles from inexpensive solid feedstock. The use of solid raw materials and oxidizing,
neutral or reducing environments in the plasma reactor could result in a very flexible synthetic
method capable of economically producing a wide variety of inorganic nanoparticle
compositions, including oxides, mixed oxides, non-oxide ceramics and metals.
Many different processes are used to produce nanoparticles, but they generally fall into one of
three categories: particle size reduction in the solid phase, liquid phase synthesis, or gas phase
synthesis. Size reduction methods can be inexpensive but typically do not give good control of
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Kong, Peter C. & Kawczak, Alex W. Plasma Synthesis of Nanoparticles for Nanocomposite Energy Applications, article, September 1, 2008; [Idaho Falls, Idaho]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc897497/m1/2/: accessed October 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.