Liter-scale production of uniform gas bubbles via parallelization of flow-focusing generators†
Microscale gas bubbles have demonstrated enormous utility as versatile templates for the synthesis of functional materials in medicine, ultra-lightweight materials and acoustic metamaterials. In many of these applications, high uniformity of the size of the gas bubbles is critical to achieve the desired properties and functionality. While microfluidics have been used with success to create gas bubbles that have a uniformity not achievable using conventional methods, the inherently low volumetric flow rate of microfluidics has limited its use in most applications. Parallelization of liquid droplet generators, in which many droplet generators are incorporated onto a single chip, has shown great promise for the large scale production of monodisperse liquid emulsion droplets. However, the scale-up of monodisperse gas bubbles using such an approach has remained a challenge because of possible coupling between parallel bubbles generators and feedback effects from the downstream channels. In this report, we systematically investigate the effect of factors such as viscosity of the continuous phase, capillary number, and gas pressure as well as the channel uniformity on the size distribution of gas bubbles in a parallelized microfluidic device. We show that, by optimizing the flow conditions, a device with 400 parallel flow focusing generators on a footprint of 5 × 5 cm2 can be used to generate gas bubbles with a coefficient of variation of less than 5% at a production rate of approximately 1 L h−1. Our results suggest that the optimization of flow conditions using a device with a small number (e.g., 8) of parallel FFGs can facilitate large-scale bubble production.