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Micro-encapsulation is a process in which tiny particles or droplets are surrounded by a coating to give small capsules with many useful properties. In a relatively simplistic form, a microcapsule is a small sphere with a uniform wall around it. The material inside the microcapsule is referred to as the core, internal phase, or fill, whereas the wall is sometimes called a shell, coating, or membrane. Most microcapsules have diameters between a few micrometers and a few millimeters.

Many microcapsules however bear little resemblance to these simple spheres. The core may be a crystal, a jagged adsorbent particle, an emulsion, a suspension of solids, or a suspension of smaller microcapsules. The microcapsule even may have multiple walls.


Reasons for encapsulation

The reasons for microencapsulation are countless. In some cases, the core must be isolated from its surroundings, as in isolating vitamins from the deteriorating effects of oxygen, retarding evaporation of a volatile core, improving the handling properties of a sticky material, or isolating a reactive core from chemical attack. In other cases, the objective is not to isolate the core completely but to control the rate at which it leaves the microcapsule, as in the controlled release of drugs or pesticides. The problem may be as simple as masking the taste or odor of the core, or as complex as increasing the selectivity of an adsorption or extraction process.

Techniques to manufacture microcapsules

Physical methods

Pan coating

The pan coating process, widely used in the pharmaceutical industry, is among the oldest industrial procedures for forming small, coated particles or tablets. The particles are tumbled in a pan or other device while the coating material is applied slowly.

Air-suspension coating

Air-suspension coating of particles by solutions or melts gives better control and flexibility. The particles are coated while suspended in an upward-moving air stream. They are supported by a perforated plate having different patterns of holes inside and outside a cylindrical insert. Just sufficient air is permitted to rise through the outer annular space to fluidize the settling particles. Most of the rising air (usually heated) flows inside the cylinder, causing the particles to rise rapidly. At the top, as the air stream diverges and slows, they settle back onto the outer bed and move downward to repeat the cycle. The particles pass through the inner cylinder many times in a few minutes.

Centrifugal extrusion

Liquids are encapsulated using a rotating extrusion head containing concentric nozzles. In this process, a jet of core liquid is surrounded by a sheath of wall solution or melt. As the jet moves through the air it breaks, owing to Rayleigh instability, into droplets of core, each coated with the wall solution. While the droplets are in flight, a molten wall may be hardened or a solvent may be evaporated from the wall solution. Since most of the droplets are within ± 10% of the mean diameter, they land in a narrow ring around the spray nozzle. Hence, if needed, the capsules can be hardened after formation by catching them in a ring-shaped hardening bath.This process is excellent for forming particles 400-2000μm in diameter. Since the drops are formed by the breakup of a liquid jet, the process is only suitable for liquid or slurry. A high production rate can be achieved, i.e., up to 22.5 kg of microcapsules can be produced per nozzle per hour per head. Heads containing 16 nozzles are available.

Vibrational Nozzle

Core-Shell encapsulation or Microgranulation (matrix-encapsulation) can be done using a laminar flow through a nozzle and an additional vibration of the nozzle or the liquid. The vibration has to be done in resonance of the Rayleigh instability and leads to very uniform droplets. The liquid can consists of any liquids with limited visocsities (0-10000 mPas have been shown to work), e.g. solutions, emulsions, suspensions, melts etc. The soldification can be done according to the used gelation system with an internal gelation (e.g. sol-gel processing, melt) or an external (additional binder system, e.g. in a slurry). The process works very well for generating droplets between 100-5000 micrometer, applications for smaller and larger droplets are known. The units are deployed in industries and research mostly with capacities of 1-10000 kg/h at working temperatures of 20-1500°C (room temperature up to molten silicon). Nozzles heads are available from one up to several hundred thousand are available.


Spray drying serves as a microencapsulation technique when an active material is dissolved or suspended in a melt or polymer solution and becomes trapped in the dried particle. The main advantages is the ability to handle labile materials because of the short contact time in the dryer, in addition, the operation is economical. In modern spray dryers the viscosity of the solutions to be sprayed can be as high as 300mPa.s.

Chemical methods

Interfacial polymerization

In Interfacial polymerization, the two reactants in a polycondensation meet at an interface and react rapidly. The basis of this method is the classical Schotten Baumann reaction between an acid chloride and a compound containing an active hydrogen atom, such as an amine or alcohol, polyesters, polyurea, polyurethane. Under the right conditions, thin flexible walls form rapidly at the interface. A solution of the pesticide and a diacid chloride are emulsified in water and an aqueous solution containing an amine and a polyfunctional isocyanate is added. Base is present to neutralize the acid formed during the reaction. Condensed polymer walls form instantaneously at the interface of the emulsion droplets.

In-situ polymerization

In a few microencapsulation processes, the direct polymerization of a single monomer is carried out on the particle surface. In one process, e.g. Cellulose fibers are encapsulated in polyethylene while immersed in dry toluene. Usual deposition rates are about 0.5μm/min. Coating thickness ranges 0.2-75μm. The coating is uniform, even over sharp projections.

Matrix polymerization

In a number of processes, a core material is imbedded in a polymeric matrix during formation of the particles. A simple method of this type is spray-drying, in which the particle is formed by evaporation of the solvent from the matrix material. However, the solidification of the matrix also can be caused by a chemical change.

Release methods and patterns

Even when the aim of a microencapsulation application is the isolation of the core from its surrounding, the wall must be ruptured at the time of use. Many walls are ruptured easily by pressure or shear stress, as in the case of breaking dye particles during writing to form a copy. Capsule contents may be released by melting the wall, or dissolving it under particular conditions, as in the case of an enteric drug coating. In other systems, the wall is broken by solvent action, enzyme attack, chemical reaction, hydrolysis, or slow disintegration.

Microencapsulation can be used to slow the release of a drug into the body. This may permit one controlled release dose to substitute for several doses of non-encapsulated drug and also may decrease toxic side effects for some drugs by preventing high initial concentrations in the blood. There is usually a certain desired release pattern. In some cases, it is zero-order, i.e. the release rate is constant. In this case, the microcapsules deliver a fixed amount of drug per minute or hour during the period of their effectiveness. This can occur as long as a solid reservoir or dissolving drug is maintained in the microcapsule.

A more typical release pattern is first-order in which the rate decreases exponentially with time until the drug source is exhausted. In this situation, a fixed amount of drug is in solution inside the microcapsule. The concentration difference between the inside and the outside of the capsule decreases continually as the drug diffuses.


Applications of microencapsulation

The applications of micro-encapsulation are numerous. The ones mentioned below are some of the most common ones.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, microencapsulation also finds use in certain medical fields as well.

Microcapsules are also used in novel plastics that can automatically repair damage: Self-healing material.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Micro-encapsulation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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