The high-pressure, high shear mixer - housed at the University of Liverpool - is the result of a collaboration between Unilever and engineering firm Maelstrom.
Part-funded by Unilever and NanoCentral – a government-funded body tasked with unlocking the potential of nanomaterials – the mixer’s high mixing speeds had been expected to produce stable emulsions with unusual properties of interest to firms in the food, personal care, paints and lubricants sectors.
Food manufacturers in particular had hoped it would be able to produce low-fat emulsions with much smaller fat droplets that mimicked the texture and mouthfeel of full-fat products, NanoCentral director Dr Dan Gooding told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
However, it had so far failed to produce droplets anything like as small as its inventors had hoped, he claimed.
“Unfortunately the technology failed at the first hurdle in that it was specifically designed to create nano emulsions on an industrial scale, and it didn’t deliver.
“Initially we couldn’t get much lower than a micron in size. We are heading towards 200-nanometre droplet sizes now, but they are still not anything like as small as we had hoped.”
More consistent droplet sizes
On the plus side, however, the emulsions it did create had more consistent droplet sizes, while the machine offered users a greater degree of control than some other methods, he said.
“I’d say we are keeping a watching brief on this technology, but at the moment, it looks like some other technologies might prove more promising [for creating nano-emulsions].”
One such was a novel dispersion unit dubbed ConCor – the result of a collaboration between a firm called Primary Dispersions and Maelstrom – that was designed to disperse solid nanoparticles such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide but was also under evaluation for the production of nano emulsions, said Gooding.
Primary Dispersions was seeking partners to optimise dispersions across a wide range of application areas, he said.