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Scaling-up multiphase microchemical reactors

Final Report Summary - MICROTOMILLI (Scaling-up multiphase microchemical reactors)

The aim of chemical engineering and its unit operations is to transform raw materials into products (e.g. commodity and specialty chemicals like pharmaceuticals). Motivated by the awareness of the world’s finite resources, it is desirable that these products are obtained in a sustainable, efficient and environmentally acceptable fashion, which means minimizing waste and energy use, and make increasingly use of renewable raw materials. Novel efficient manufacturing technologies and innovative design approaches will contribute to the solutions to this important challenge. These efforts are also backed-up by several major pharmaceutical and fine chemistry companies, who emphasize the need for further research efforts in process intensification, and the demand for novel concepts for continuous reaction systems.
As many of the relevant chemical transformations involve multiple phases, the aim of this project is to understand interfacial transport processes and the scale-up of the involved transport coefficients in more detail. Such a fundamental understanding of multiphase flow systems and the underlying physics of the transport processes is needed to successfully design these novel continuous reaction systems as outlined above.
We started out by experimentally characterizing mass transfer in gas-liquid and liquid-liquid flows in flow reactors on the micro- and milli-scale. Thereby we obtained a detailed hydrodynamic understanding of these systems, and how it is linked to the interfacial transport processes. Based on these results, we are designed novel flow reactors combining the enhanced mixing of the micro-scale with the throughput of the milli-scale. We achieve these designs by manufacturing bespoke porous inserts based on rapid prototyping technologies. 3D printing technologies allow the design of complex structures with varying geometrical parameters, and we have investigated the influence of these geometrical parameters on interfacial mass transfer and reaction yield in liquid-liquid flow. Furthermore, we also use CFD as a tool to improve our understanding of the effect of the local porosity on the hydrodynamics.
As a result of this project, we have identified a promising 3D printed structure which outperforms traditionally used packed-beds. As a follow-up, we will further scale-up this porous reactor to achieve a throughput relevant for fine chemistry applications in industry. In conclusion, this project has led to a process intensified design of novel milli-scale multiphase flow reactors.