The chemical industry is a major contributor to employment, technology and wealth creation in Europe and directly employs 520,000 people. More than 95% of the chemical companies are SMEs employing about 30% of the workforce. To maintain this position, the chemical industry is constantly seeking to increase yields and reduce production times. Microwaves operating with a frequency of 2.45GHz are able to drastically reduce chemical reactions from hours, under conventional heating, to just minutes and in addition produce more controlled reactions required to create eco-friendly green chemistry. Currently only a laboratory system exists for producing a few cc of chemicals. The project aims to develop a prototype chemical reactor using microwave chemistry, for the continuous production of bulk chemicals at commercial production rates (kg/hr). This will be achieved by combining, for the first time, both centrifugal technology and microwave sources having tuneable frequencies within the range 2GHz to 26GHz. The availability of a tuneable frequency will allow the microwave process to be optimised at all stages of its reaction to generate maximum product yield whilst reducing the time consuming chemical extraction procedures. In addition, sensors for measuring temperature, power and dielectric properties within the chemical reactor, will permit computer control of the process. It is proposed to use the new system to investigate the production of four important pharmaceuticals having a high commercial added value. Such experiments will create a wealth of new information, from which it may be possible to elucidate the mechanism of how microwave energy is able to substantially speed up these polar chemical reactions. By creating a microwave chemical reactor both the microwave and chemical sectors of industry will benefit by the consolidation of existing employment in the EC and create new jobs by gaining a technology lead over the competitors in the USA, Canada and Japan.
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