Using neutron scattering to address complex additive challenges
02 Nov 2017
- Emily Cooke



Understanding the mechanism by which detergent particles are formed is crucial for their improved development and design.


​​​​​Grace Ronnie, a former undergrad placement student from the University of Leeds, prepares samples for use on the LOQ instrument.


Infineum, a world-class formulator, manufacturer and marketer of petroleum additives, has used small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to build a picture of detergent components and formulations to a level of detail that has not previously possible.  Infineum are hoping to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms between the components within formulations, which they hope will improve the efficiency of additives for an extensive range of commercial applications.


Small-Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS) allows scientists to explore and probe structures at length scales from around 1 nanometre to more than 100 nanometres with a beam of neutrons. Neutrons interact with the nucleus of a material, and this means that the neutron scattering power of parts of the system under investigation can be increased or decreased by isotopic substitution within the sample.  The most common of these for SANS is replacing hydrogen with deuterium.  The resulting scattering pattern can be analysed and the size, shape and orientation of a particular sample component can be deduced. This level of specificity means that minute, yet crucial differences between ostensibly identical additives can be detected and scientists can gain insight into the microscopic behaviour of solids and liquids.

“This extremely specialised technique is often used by industry as neutrons are non-destructive, so the samples being studied are not altered by beam damage.  Also the unique interaction of neutrons with the nucleus of a material allows for extremely detailed information for multicomponent systems to be discovered via a technique called contrast variation.  Contrast variation allows scientists to highlight specific parts of the system under study by altering the isotopic content of the sample.  In this case by making measurements in both hydrogenated and deuterated solvent, scientists can determine the size of the whole detergent particle, the size of it's core as well as the thickness of the stabilising shell." 

Sarah Rogers, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source instrument scientist


ISIS Neutron and Muon Source & Industry

Scientists at Infineum UK Ltd have used the SANS2D and LOQ instruments at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to identify the key parts of the detergent synthesis process that affect the properties and performance of the final formulation and have revealed how these attributes can be influenced.

“The data obtained using SANS has improved our understanding of the mechanism by which detergent particles are formed, paving the way for future research into the valuable contribution that detergents make to petroleum additives, such as those used to control rust and prevent deposits forming on engine components."

 Pete Dowding, Infineum 


Future applications

Companies such as Infineum can draw inspiration from the way that scientists at ISIS are using cutting-edge techniques such as SANS and can use it to bring value to their own applications, ​be it examining the impact of biofuel use in diesel common-rails or improving our understanding of lubricant behaviour in moving parts. Additional fields of interest include investigating the formation of films on a surface in order to study the properties of antifriction and antiwear layers.


Research date: November 2015

Further Information

For further information please contact Dr Sarah Rogers 

For further information on beamtime for industry see here.  

See here for further details on SANS2D and LOQ instruments.