At the cutting edge of the chemical and biological research, innovation takes place in a field referred to as Lab on Chip (LoC), a multi-disciplinary area that combines biology, chemistry, electronics, microfabrication, and fluid mechanics. Within this field, droplets have been used as microreactors to produce advanced materials like quantum dots, micro and nanoparticles, active pharmaceutical ingredients, etc. The size of these microreactors offers distinct advantages, which were not possible using batch technologies. For example, they allow for lower reagent waste, minimal energy consumption, increased safety, as well as better process control of reaction conditions like temperature regulation, residence times, and response times among others.
One of the biggest drawbacks associated with this technology is its limited production volume that prevents it from reaching industrial applications. The standard production rates for a single droplet microfluidic device is in the range of 1-10mLh-1, whereas industrial applications usually demand production rates several orders of magnitude higher. Although substantial work has been recently undertaken in the development scaled-out solutions, which run in parallel several droplet generators.
Complex fluid mechanics and limitations on the manufacturing capacity have constrained these works to explore only in-plane parallelization. This thesis investigates a three-dimensional parallelization by proposing a microfluidic system that is comprised of a stack of droplet generation layers working on the liquid-liquid ow regime. Its realization implied a study of the characteristics of conventional droplet generators and the development of a fabrication process for 3D networks of microchannels. Finally, the combination of these studies resulted in a functional 3D parallelization system with the highest production rate (i.e. 1 Lh-1) at the time of its publication. Additionally, this architecture can reach industrially relevant production rates as more devices can be integrated into the same chip and many chips can compose a manufacturing plant. The thesis also addresses the concerns about system reliability and quality control by proposing capacitive and radio frequency resonator sensors that can measure accurately increments as small as 2.4% in the water-in-oil volume fraction and identify errors during droplet production.
|Date of Award
- Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering
|Ian Foulds (Supervisor) & Jurgen Kosel (Supervisor)