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Technical Overview: Microencapsulation
Microencapsulation may be defined as the process of surrounding or enveloping one substance within another substance on a very small scale, yielding capsules ranging from less than one micron to several hundred microns in size. Microcapsules may be spherically shaped, with a continuous wall surrounding the core, while others are asymmetrically and variably shaped, with a quantity of smaller droplets of core material embedded throughout the microcapsule. All three states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) may be microencapsulated. This allows liquid and gas phase materials to be handled more easily as solids, and can afford some measure of protection to those handling hazardous materials.
Microencapsulation may be achieved by a myriad of techniques, with several purposes in mind. Substances may be microencapsulated with the intention that the core material be confined within capsule walls for a specific period of time. Alternatively, core materials may be encapsulated so that the core material will be released either gradually through the capsule walls, known as controlled release or diffusion, or when external conditions trigger the capsule walls to rupture, melt, or dissolve.
The substance that is encapsulated may be called the core material, the active ingredient or agent, fill, payload, nucleus, or internal phase. The material encapsulating the core is referred to as the coating, membrane, shell, or wall material. Microcapsules may have one wall or multiple shells arranged in strata of varying thicknesses around the core.
There are almost limitless applications for microencapsulated material. Microencapsulated materials are utilized in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, foods, cosmetics and fragrances, textiles, paper, paints, coatings and adhesives, printing applications, and many other industries.
Historically, carbonless copy paper was the first marketable product to employ microcapsules. A coating of microencapsulated colorless ink is applied to the top sheet of paper, and a developer is applied to the subsequent sheet. When pressure is applied by writing, the capsules break and the ink reacts with the developer to produce the dark color of the copy.
Today's textile industry makes use of microencapsulated materials to enhance the properties of finished goods. One application increasingly utilized is the incorporation of microencapsulated phase change materials (PCMs). Phase change materials absorb and release heat in response to changes in environmental temperatures. When temperatures rise, the phase change material melts, absorbing
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