Ultrasonic Cavitation in Liquids

Ultrasonic waves of high intensity ultrasound generate acoustic cavitation in liquids. Cavitation causes extreme effects locally, such as liquid jets of up to 1000km/hr, pressures of up to 2000 atm and temperatures of up to 5000 Kelvin. These ultrasonically-generated forces are used for numerous liquid processing applications such as homogenization, dispersing, emulsification, extraction, cell disruption, as well as the intensification of chemical reactions.

The Working Principle of Ultrasonic Cavitation

When sonicating liquids at high intensities, the sound waves that propagate into the liquid media result in alternating high-pressure (compression) and low-pressure (rarefaction) cycles, with rates depending on the frequency. During the low-pressure cycle, high-intensity ultrasonic waves create small vacuum bubbles or voids in the liquid. When the bubbles attain a volume at which they can no longer absorb energy, they collapse violently during a high-pressure cycle. This phenomenon is termed cavitation. During the implosion very high temperatures (approx. 5,000K) and pressures (approx. 2,000atm) are reached locally. The implosion of the cavitation bubble also results in liquid jets of up to 280m/s velocity.

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Ultrasonic probes use the forces of acoustic cavitation to provide intense mixing and homogenization. Ultrasonic homogneizers are widely used for efficient blending, dispersing, emulsifying, extraction, degassing and sonochemistry.

Probe-type ultrasonicators such as the UP400St use the working principle of acoustic cavitation.

Acoustic or ultrasonic cavitation: bubble growth and implosion

Acoustic cavitation (generated by power ultrasound) creates locally extreme conditions, so-called sonomechanical and sonochemical effects. Due to these effects, sonication promotes chemical reactions leading to higher yields, faster reaction speed, new pathways, and improved overall efficiency.


This video shows the Hielscher ultrasonicator UP400S (400W) generating acoustic cavitation in water.

Ultrasonic Cavitation in Water using the UP400S

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Key Applications of Ultrasonicators using Acoustic Cavitation

Probe-type ultrasonicators, also known as ultrasonic probes, efficiently generate intense acoustic cavitation in liquids. Therefore, they are widely used in various applications across different industries. Some of the most important applications of acoustic cavitation generated by probe-type ultrasonicators include:

Powerful Ultrasonic Cavitation at Hielscher Cascatrode

Powerful Ultrasonic Cavitation at Hielscher Ultrasonic Cascatrode

  1. Homogenization: Ultrasonic probes can generate intense cavitation, which is characterised as an energy-dense field of vibration and shear forces. These forces provide excellent mixing, blending and particle size reduction. Ultrasonic homogenization produces uniformly mixed suspensions. Therefore, sonication is used to produce homogeneous colloidal suspension with narrow distribution curves.
  2. Nanoparticle Dispersion: Ultrasonicators are employed for the dispersion, deagglomeration and wet-milling of nanoparticles. Low-frequency ultrasound waves can generate impactful cavitation, which breaks down agglomerates and reduces particle size. In particular the high shear of the liquid jets accelerates particles in the liquid, which collide with each other (interparticulate collision) so that the particles consequently break and erode. This results in uniform and stable distribution of particles preventing sedimentation. This is crucial in various fields, including nanotechnology, materials science, and pharmaceuticals.
  3. Emulsification and Mixing: Probe-type ultrasonicators are used to create emulsions and mix liquids. The ultrasonic energy causes cavitation, the formation and collapse of microscopic bubbles, which generates intense local shear forces. This process aids in emulsifying immiscible liquids, producing stable and finely dispersed emulsions.
  4. Extraction: Due to cavitational shear forces, ultrasonicators are highly efficient in disrupting cellular structures and to improve mass transfer between solid and liquid. Therefore, ultrasonic extraction is widely used to release intracellular material such as bioactive compounds for the production of high-quality botanical extracts.
  5. Degassing and Deaeration: Probe-type ultrasonicators are employed to remove gas bubbles or dissolved gases from liquids. The application of ultrasonic cavitation promotes the coalescence of gas bubbles so that they grow and float to the top of the liquid. Ultrasonic cavitation makes degasification a quick and efficient procedure. This is valuable in various industries, such as in paints, hydraulic fluids, or food and beverage processing, where the presence of gases can negatively impact product quality and stability.
  6. Sonocatalysis: Ultrasonic probes can be used for sonocatalysis, a process that combines acoustic cavitation with catalysts to enhance chemical reactions. The cavitation generated by ultrasonic waves improves mass transfer, increases reaction rates, and promotes the production of free radicals, leading to more efficient and selective chemical transformations.
  7. Sample Preparation: Probe-type ultrasonicators are commonly used in laboratories for sample preparation. They are used to homogenize, disaggregate, and extract biological samples, such as cells, tissues, and viruses. The ultrasonic energy generated by the probe disrupts the cell membranes, releasing cellular contents and facilitating further analysis.
  8. Disintegration and Cell Disruption: Probe-type ultrasonicators are utilized to disintegrate and disrupt cells and tissues for various purposes, such as extraction of intracellular components, microbial inactivation, or sample preparation for analysis. The high-intensity ultrasonic waves and the thereby generated cavitation cause mechanical stress and shear forces, resulting in the disintegration of cell structures. In biological research and medical diagnostics, probe-type ultrasonicators are used for cell lysis, the process of breaking open cells to release their intracellular components. Ultrasonic energy disrupts cell walls, membranes, and organelles, enabling the extraction of proteins, DNA, RNA, and other cellular constituents.

These are some of the key applications of probe-type ultrasonicators, but the technology has an even wider range of other uses, including sonochemistry, particle size reduction (wet-milling), bottom-up particle synthesis, and sono-synthesis of chemical substances and materials in various industries such as pharmaceuticals, food processing, biotechnology, and environmental sciences.


Ultrasonic graphene exfoliation in water

A high-speed sequence (from a to f) of frames illustrating sono-mechanical exfoliation of a graphite flake in water using the UP200S, a 200W ultrasonicator with 3-mm sonotrode. Arrows show the place of splitting particles with cavitation bubbles penetrating the split.
© Tyurnina et al. 2020

Acoustic cavitation as shown here at the Hielscher ultrasonicator UIP1500hdT is used to initiate and promote chemical reactions. Ultrasonic cavitation at Hielscher UIP1500hdT (1500W) ultrasonicator for sonochemical reactions.

Ultrasonic cavitation at the cascatrode probe of the ultrasonicator UIP1000hdT (1000 watts, 20kHz) in a glass reactor.

Video of Acoustic Cavitation in Liquid

The following video demonstrates acoustic cavitation at the cascatrode of the ultrasonicator UIP1000hdT in a water-filled glass column. The glass column is illuminated from the bottom by red light in order to improve the visualization of the cavitation bubbles.

This video shows ultrasonic / acoustic cavitation in water - generated by the Hielscher UIP1000. Ultrasonic cavitation is used for many liquid applications such as homogenisation, dispersion, emulsification, extraction, degassing and sonochemical reactions.

Ultrasonic Cavitation in Liquids using the UIP1000

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Please use the form below to request additional information about ultrasonic processors for the generation of acoustic cavitation, applications and prices. We will be glad to discuss your process with you and to offer you an ultrasonic cavitation system meeting your requirements!

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The table below gives you an indication of the approximate processing capacity of our ultrasonicators:

Batch VolumeFlow RateRecommended Devices
1 to 500mL10 to 200mL/minUP100H
10 to 2000mL20 to 400mL/minUP200Ht, UP400St
0.1 to 20L0.2 to 4L/minUIP2000hdT
10 to 100L2 to 10L/minUIP4000hdT
n.a.10 to 100L/minUIP16000
n.a.largercluster of UIP16000
Ultrasonic high-shear homogenizers are used in lab, bench-top, pilot and industrial processing.

Hielscher Ultrasonics manufactures high-performance ultrasonic homogenizers for mixing applications, dispersion, emulsification and extraction on lab, pilot and industrial scale.

Literature / References

High performance ultrasonics! Hielscher's product range covers the full spectrum from the compact lab ultrasonicator over bench-top units to full-industrial ultrasonic systems.

Hielscher Ultrasonics manufactures high-performance ultrasonic homogenizers from lab to industrial size.

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