Low power ultrasound technology receives an Innovate UK grant boost

This week sees the announcement of Innovate UK grants that have been awarded for projects that will be carried out here at Diamond Light Source. Innovate UK’s Analysis for Innovators Competition which opened to applications in January 2017, had the aim of helping companies overcome intractable product, manufacturing or process performance problems through advanced measurement and analytical technologies. The ultimate aim is to improve companies’ overall performance and productivity. Businesses applied for a share of £6.5 million to work with world-leading organisations on solutions for analysis/measurement problems. 


Today one of the applicants, Ken Lewtas of Lewtas Science and Technologies, had his Innovate UK grant confirmed. Ken has been involved in the creation of several successful products which have been and are in use worldwide, some of them for over three decades.  He has visiting professor positions at the University of Warwick and University of Edinburgh and is a member and trustee of the UK High Polymer Research Group (HPRG).

Ken’s application entitled “Phase change control by very low power ultrasound” will see Ken working in collaboration with Professor Malcolm Povey from the University of Leeds, Engineer Andy Price and scientists and Industrial Liaison personnel from Diamond Light source to study the effects of low power ultrasound upon phase changes such as crystallisation.

Low power (< 10 W m− 2) ultrasound spectroscopy has been used for many years for the characterisation of materials, particularly in the food industry, with respect to particle size distribution, adiabatic compressibility, particle solvation and dissolution, crystal nucleation and solid content. High power (> 1 kW m− 2) ultrasound methods are applied for material modification and processing, ultimately speeding up processing times, improving product quality and reducing costs. However, high power ultrasound methods are well-known to impact on crystallisation and structuring which can have many drawbacks. In the case of food production, they can cause off-flavours through product oxidation. Furthermore, process development with power ultrasound is hit and miss, mainly due to the complex and poorly understood detailed physics involved, but also there are many issues such as the generation of free radicals (which can promote the oxidation of fats), and the destructive nature of transient cavitation (the formation of vapour cavities in in a liquid that can implode and lead to a shock wave) which gives rise to wear of sonotrode and processing equipment, ultimately leading to contamination of the product. Recent experiments have shown that well-controlled crystal nucleation can be obtained using low power ultrasound but fundamental studies in this area are lacking and this is where Ken and his colleagues are stepping in to fill the gaps


Fig 1: shows two identical cooled, stirred wax solutions. The cell on the right is sonicated with specific low power ultrasound while the one on the left is not. The sample on the left crystallises as normal whereas nucleation is completely suppressed in the sonicated sample.


Ken and his colleagues discovered, patented and last year published on the use of specific very low power ultrasound to control phase changes such as crystallisation and it is this novel discovery that is of potentially great commercial value. In order to take this technology out to industry, it is vital to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon at the molecular level, during molecular clustering prior to and during nucleation and subsequent crystallisation - in real time.

In order to measure and understand the nature of this effect Ken and colleagues will use simultaneous Small Angle and Wide Angle X-Ray Scattering (SAXS & WAXS) available on beamline I22 here at Diamond Light Source. They will be testing many different types of candidate molecules such as waxes, fats, fuels and oils, model pharmaceutical and agrochemical molecules in a specially created acoustic cell, to be developed and tested here by Diamond staff.

"The funding and the opportunity to work at Diamond is so important for a micro-SME like mine. Without it we would have to do much of the work empirically. Now we have an excellent chance of understanding the basic phenomena at work. This gives us the opportunity to better protect the IP and get to the market much quicker." Ken Lewtas

Ken believes that this technology should be applicable to many industries where materials such as waxes and triglycerides are the essential ingredients; for example in foods (oils, fats, chocolates, etc.), oils and fuels (diesel fuels, crude oils, aviation fuels), adhesives (hot melt adhesives), construction (panel boards such as MDF), and rubbers (tyres).

It is also possible that this will have a high impact environmentally with possible applications in phase-change materials (heat batteries and storage where the heat transitions can be controlled instead of depending on the material in use). Many of these applications should have CO2 emission impacts. There is also a high probability that this technology could have a big impact in polymer processing.

Experiments will begin here in late 2017.

The Industrial Liaison Team at Diamond

Would you like to know more about research at Diamond Light Source? Do you perhaps have a structural problem that you are unable to solve in your lab or a material you wish to find out more about? Then please get in touch with the Industrial Liaison Team at Diamond.
The Industrial Liaison team at Diamond is a group of professional scientists with a diverse range of expertise, dedicated to helping scientists and researchers from industry access the facilities at Diamond. We’re all specialists in different techniques and have a diverse range of backgrounds so we’re able to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to solving your research problems.

We’re always happy to discuss any enquiries or talk about ways in which access to Diamond’s facilities may be beneficial to your business so please do give us a call on 01235 778797 or send us an e-mail. You can keep in touch with the latest development by following us on Twitter @DiamondILO or LinkedIn