This review explains the fundamentals of electrostatic spray (electrospray) atomization, with emphasis on operation in the so called cone-jet mode, which produces droplets with a very narrow size distribution. Since the control of droplet size is key to maximizing distal lung deposition, the electrospray should be well-suited to targeted drug inhalation. Electrospray droplets are a few micrometers in diameter, but they originate from a much larger nozzle, which allows nebulization of suspensions without clogging. Also discussed are: the physical principles of the break-up of the liquid ligament; droplet dispersion by Coulombic forces; and the most important scaling law linking the droplet size to liquid flow rate and liquid physical properties. The effects of the most critical of those properties may result in some restrictions on drug formulation. Droplets produced by electrospray are electrically charged, so to prevent electrostatic image forces from causing upper respiratory tract deposition. The charge is neutralized by generating a corona discharge of opposite polarity. Briefly discussed are the main differences between the laboratory systems (with which the electrospray has been quantitatively characterized during research in the past 10 years) and commercial electrospray inhalers under development at BattellePharma. Some remarkable miniaturization has incorporated liquid pump, power supply, breath activation, and dose counter into a palm-size portable device. The maximum flow rates dispersed from these devices are in the range of 8-16 microL/s, which makes them suitable for practical drug inhalation therapy. Fabrication is economically competitive with inexpensive nebulizers. Dramatic improvements in respirable dose efficiency (up to 78% by comparison with commercial metered-dose inhalers and dry powder inhalers) should ensure the commercialization of this promising technology for targeted drug inhalation.
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