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.
A smaller plant footprint also means the most appropriate materials can be chosen, for example a corrosion-resistant superalloy such as Hastelloy might otherwise have been prohibitively costly.Crucially, batch doesn’t provide optimal processing for every chemistry, as manufacturers have to work within the constraints of the equipment.In flow chemistry, the reagents are pumped into a small reactor – which can consist of a simple array of channels or a much more complex design – but which crucially allows very efficient mixing.20 batch reactors were replaced with a milli-reactor of just 7.5m in length.‘The batch paradigm is very good, because whatever you do, you can put into batch – but there can be inter-batch variation, for all sorts of reasons,’ explains Ollie Tames, director of technology at Intensichem, which designs and supplies continuous processing technology.‘With continuous you have to sit down and ask “What does this process need?
Does it need high temperature and if so, does it need high pressure to contain the solvent system?
‘The reality is that chemical manufacturing is a variable business.’ Processes will involve multiple reaction steps, and where different products are being produced at different times of the year, manufacturers can’t afford a different reactor for every job.
Getting the industry interested in adoption means it must have the right skills available.
‘A lot of people won’t even tell our chemists what they are using,’ says Anne Kaaden, business chemist and head of marketing for Ehrfeld Mikrotechnik, a flow chemistry company based in Wendelsheim, Germany.
The German company has just been allowed to reveal that its technology has enabled Chinese agrochemicals maker Shaoxing Eastlake Biochemical to run an alkoxylation reaction continuously since last September.
‘Safety is the main driver we’re seeing in the past two years,’ says Charlotte Wiles, chief executive of Chemtrix.