On the transformation mechanism of polyethylene glycol- and citrate-coated silver nanocolloids under sunlight exposure

  • Sylvie MotellierEmail author
  • Isabella Römer
  • Nathalie Pélissier
  • Eugenia Valsami-Jones
Research Paper


As the use of nanomaterials continues to increase, their release into the environment is also expected to increase. During the use phase of nano-enhanced products containing silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) or after the release of Ag NPs in the environment, the latter are likely to be altered by the conditions they will encounter, such as sunlight irradiation. In this work, suspensions of citrate-stabilized and PEG-stabilized Ag NPs of around 20 nm in diameter were synthesized and aged for a week in a climatic chamber under controlled temperature (40 °C) and sunlight irradiation. The suspensions were analyzed by UV/visible spectroscopy, asymmetric flow field flow fractionation—inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (AF4-ICP-MS), dynamic light scattering (DLS), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). We found that the electrostatic-stabilizing citrate promoted particle morphology changes with the emergence of a transient and minor secondary population of truncated 2D prisms (110–120 nm in size) but postponed the final sedimentation step. Conversely, the initial protecting role of the steric-stabilizing PEG was reduced by the photodegradation of the polymer chains and eventually favored inter-particle bridging resulting in aggregation and sedimentation. It is hypothesized that the bridging process proceeds via PEG chain interpenetration between two adjacent particles and reduction by the polymer photodegradation products of the Ag+ ions generated by oxidative dissolution.

Graphical abstract


Silver nanoparticles Coating Aging Environmental fate Ecotoxicity 



The authors thank the Joint Research Center (Ispra, Italy) for providing the set of monodisperse silver nanoparticles used for AF4 calibration.

Funding information

This study has received funding from the European Union 7th Framework program under grant agreement No. NMP4-LA-2013-310451 (NanoMILE project). The TEM and AF4-MALS-ICP-MS equipment are part of the NanoID platform supported by the French Investissement d’Avenir ANR-10-EQPX-39.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11051_2019_4584_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (710 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 709 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives, DRT/LITEN/DTNM/S2CE/L2N, Laboratory of Nano-characterization and Nano-safetyUniversity Grenoble AlpesGrenobleFrance
  2. 2.School of Geography, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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