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CPI to invest in consortium to reduce risk for formulators

Medilink member CPI is investing in a new project – Microstar - that aims to develop a methodology and design specification for a novel microfluidic chip to allow rapid formulation stability screening to enable users to quickly understand, forecast and control the stability of formulated products.

The stability of a formulation has implications on product performance, particularly with respect to transportation and shelf life, and it is anticipated that the Microstar project will enable formulators to test more rapidly and using a wide range of variable conditions, resulting in the ability to map most of the failure modes for a given formulation over significantly reduced timescales. This will ultimately enable risk-informed business decisions that integrate mechanistic understanding with empirical models.

Microfluidics has been selected as the platform of choice for the project, as it has the ability to impose rapid fluctuations of temperature, pressure, flow and vibrations, all of which mimic the variable environmental and physical conditions that a product may be subjected to.

Although microfluidics has been utilised for over 40 years, and has been extensively used as a means of creating formulations such as micro and nano-emulsions, it has not yet been developed as a route to accelerating formulation stability, which is the novel approach this project takes.

The project consortium includes academic knowledge partners Imperial College and University of Durham who are leading cutting edge research in this field, as well as Industrial partners BP and Procter & Gamble, who will provide invaluable knowledge of their own formulations, and will provide samples into the project with known stability and breakdown mechanisms.

Microfluidics will be used in parallel with multipass and conventional rheology in order to be able to impose substantial flow fields of the type and magnitude relevant to a range of practical utilisation. Specifically within the scope of this project, these will replicate the temperatures and stresses experienced by a lubricant in an engine.
From late 2020, at the close of the project, it is anticipated that a rig and method of use for accelerated stability testing will be offered by CPI’s National Formulation Centre on an open access basis to benefit the whole of the UK formulation industry.

Director of CPI’s National Formulation Centre Graeme Cruickshank said “We are delighted to have such a high calibre of project partners from academia and industry on board with this project. This is an indication in itself of just how powerful and valuable this collaborative construct is and confirms that the development of this capability is key to the success of the UK-based formulating industries. The Microstar project fully fits with our strategy of enabling UK companies to learn small, fast and thoroughly, paving the way to developing predictive models and in turn driving efficiency and productivity in the product development process.”

Fiona Williams, Director, Research & Development, Procter & Gamble reflects, “We’re excited to be involved in this project. Innovation is core for P&G and fundamental to our growth. Collaborative research projects with partners such as CPI are of strategic importance in our increasingly connected world. Microstar will identify new stability models through experimentation and first principles mechanistic understanding which we’ll use in future product innovation to deliver significantly reduced development times. This will allow us to bring new products that delight consumers, to market even faster.”

Joao Cabral, Reader in soft matter, is excited by the opportunity for the academic research he oversees being utilised in a potentially game-changing capability for the UK formulation industry. “At Imperial College, we have been developing dedicated microfluidics for complex fluids over the past 5 years, exploring opportunities for phase mapping and flow processing afforded by the precise flow fields provided by these platforms. We are now enthusiastic to work with the National Formulation Centre and our key partners P&G, BP and Durham university to push these efforts forward and address a major challenge in formulations – to understand, predict and engineer (meta)stability. Our vision for the microfluidic platform that it can rapidly map ‘accelerate’ the quantification of stability, and provide a robust, versatile yet simple tool with profound ramifications in industry and academia.”

Richard Thompson, Senior Research Fellow at Durham University echoes Joao Cabrals’ thoughts “This is a new kind of project where planning how to exploit research results in downstream applications has been critical to shaping the programme.  Working from this perspective provides an excellent opportunity to connect rigorous science with applications where its impact will be felt.”

Andrew Smith, Team Leader, Research & Innovation, Formulation Product Technology, BP says, “We are thrilled to be a part of such a forward looking project.  Product quality and integrity is central to BP and the Castrol lubricant product portfolio.  This innovative approach, using microfluidics, will represent a significant step forward in assessing formulation instability and will enable rapid formulation prototyping- so Castrol can continue to pioneer new lubricant components and formulation approaches.”

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