Process monitoring of alumina nanoparticle synthesis by inductively coupled RF thermal plasma

Since the first inductively coupled plasma (ICP) torch was developed in the 60's, RF thermal plasmas have found a variety of applications in material processing such as crystal growth, thermal spray coatings, spheroidization and vaporization of refractory materials. In recent decades, inductively coupled thermal plasmas have been used for the synthesis of high purity nanoparticles, thank to their remarkable advantages such as high energy density, variable operating pressures and low product contamination. The formation of nano-sized particles in thermal plasmas particularly using solid refractory precursor is a complex process. Hereby the injected precursor powders are heated by the high temperature of the thermal plasma. The heated powders are vaporized and decomposed into vapor species. During the following cooling, the vapor species are condensed to nano-sized particles. In this synthesis process, characterized by evaporation-condensation, the properties of the synthesized particles such as particle size, size distribution, phases and morphology are affected by various process parameters. Gas pressure, flow rates of the different torch gases, size of the precursor powders and powder loading in the plasma are considered as the influencing process parameters. In order to optimize and control the process for tailor-made nanoparticle synthesis, it is necessary to understand the effects of the process parameters on plasma properties and on the particle-plasma interactions resulting in final properties of the synthesized powders. In the present work, firstly, the enthalpy probe technique, a well-established plasma diagnostic tool for high pressure thermal plasma, has been applied to characterize the inductively coupled Ar-H2 thermal RF plasma used for alumina nanoparticle synthesis at different operating conditions. The plasma enthalpy has been determined, and the plasma temperature under a given gas pressure could subsequently be calculated assuming local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE), once the gas composition has been determined by mass spectrometry. The gas velocity of the plasma jet could also be obtained by using the Bernoulli equation and stagnation pressure. Secondly, the influence of flow rates of central gas and precursor feed rates on the Al2O3 precursor evaporation has been investigated by process monitoring. Optical emission spectroscopy (OES) and laser light extinction (LE) measurements have been carried out to monitor in-situ the injection of the alumina precursors and to obtain information on the ongoing precursor evaporation. The emission line intensities of the aluminum vapor were used to determine the dependence of process parameters on precursor evaporation. Furthermore, the laser light extinction was used to calculate the number density of non plasma-treated powders, from which the number fraction of evaporated powders could be deduced. The size and morphology of the synthesized particles have been characterized ex-situ. Finally, the influence of quenching conditions on the condensation and formation of the nano-sized alumina particle has been studied by process analysis of the gas phase reactions of alumina. Optical emission spectroscopic was performed at different axial positions to monitor the gas phase reactions of the vaporized particles. Axial profiles of the emission line intensities of the main vapor species of alumina, Al(g) and AlO(g), were compared with the results of the enthalpy probe measurements and the thermal decomposition reactions of alumina found in literature. The results allow explanation of the alumina reactions in the thermal plasma as well as gives indications for the optimal axial position of the quenching gas injection. In addition to the determination of the optimal quenching position, the influence of the flow rates of quenching gas on the nanoparticle formation has been investigated. The synthesis of the submicron alumina using vapor-condensation principle predominantly leads to various thermodynamically metastable crystal structures called transition alumina. Therefore, the occurrence of different transition aluminas is discussed with regards to the flow rates of the quenching gas. The results presented in this thesis show that the synthesis process of the nanoparticle can be described on the basis of experimental results and basic information on the powder materials. The explanation of the influence of process parameters on powder evaporation and nanoparticle formation shows the usefulness of the in-situ plasma process monitoring, and the large potential for optimizing and controlling the nanopowder synthesis process in an inductively coupled RF thermal plasma.


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