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‘It wouldn’t be trivial,’ Tames says, ‘but it would be like a burst pipe – compared to a 5000 litre reactor exploding, which might take part of a plant away.’ ‘You’re not using all your raw materials – hold-up volumes are small – and with our technology there shouldn’t be an accident anyway,’ says Wiles.
But if something did go wrong, ‘less material would be lost, because unlike batch, it would never be in process all at once’.
It recently revealed that one of its reactors is being used successfully by China’s Nanjing refinery for an industrial nitration process, which has reduced the plant’s footprint.
On a larger scale, AM Technology makes general purpose continuous reactors which employ active mixing – loose mixing elements in the reactor body are rotated or shaken, which makes them good at handling different materials such as gas and liquids.
From fine chemicals to pesticides and drugs, chemical manufacturers are rethinking the start–stop batch processing model which has served them for the past 50 years.
The drivers are varied: the push for sustainability, improved safety requirements and changing supply chain models are all taking manufacturers in the same direction: towards flow, or continuous, processing.
The industry is no stranger to continuous processing in cases where megatonnes are produced, but for the smaller scale, flow chemistry is offering tangible benefits.
The evangelists for this emerging technology point to improved yields, less waste, greater purity of the finished product and, in some cases, a safer process.
UK-based Syrris has just completed an Innovate UK funded project with GSK and the EPSRC Centre for Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation (CMAC) which characterised the heat and mass transfer and mixing capabilities of its modular continuous processing system.
This will eliminate much of the trial and error for any new application.
Corning has a series of Advanced Flow Reactors which allow a range of chemical reactions such as nitration, oxidation and chlorination, and which can be customised.
The goal is to understand the process more deeply and then pick the appropriate technology for the rate at which you want to manufacture, says Tames.
Equipment makers are coalescing around different niches, because the chemistry dictates what type of device is required, says Wiles.