Because of the huge effective surface area, the ability to blend different types of polymers, and the fact that the process is conducted at room temperature so that biological compounds can be loaded into the fibers, electrospinning has enormous potential to create new families of higher performance products across a wide array of industry sectors. For a technique invented in 1934, we are just now beginning to see its true potential.
Electrospinning may be a well established method for creating small diameter fibers, but its true potential for performance improvements across a wide range of applications has only recently been recognized.
This breakthrough nanotechnology has potential to create new industry models in manufacturing and supply for medicine, industrial filtration, drug delivery, and the military. Applications for electrospun fibers range from scaffolding for tissue engineering (bone, cartilage blood vessel regeneration), to bioresorbable drug delivery systems for hard-to-treat wounds, to protective clothing with reactive sites for biological recognition elements (chemical and bio-hazard gear).
Basically, electrospinning uses an electrical charge to form a mat of extremely fine fibers which have diameters typically between 20 and 200 nm. A polymer, sol-gel or composite solution (or melt) is loaded into a syringe tipped with a metallic needle. A high-voltage power supply is applied between the needle and a grounded collector plate. As the voltage is applied, and the polymer is forced from the syringe through the tip, the initial droplet is stretched into a structure known as a Taylor Cone. If the polymer’s viscosity is sufficiently high, and if stream breakup does not occur, then an electrified liquid jet of polymer is formed and spirals downward toward the collector at roughly 300 mph. As the solvent evaporates, electrostatic repulsion accelerates and elongates the jet into long whipping fibers that form a matted pile on a grounded receiving screen 10 to 30 cm away. These charged polymeric fibers can be collected in sheets, tubes, and complex geometrical shapes.
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