Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 222222
Loughborough University

Chemical Engineering

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Controlling Multiphase Reactions on Demand

March 14

Professors Richard Holdich and Chris Rielly have been awarded £325k by the EPSRC to investigate multiphase reactions. In the production of pharmaceutical and fine chemicals, most of the reactions are conducted 'homogeneously' in one phase, i.e. a suitable solvent is used to dissolve all of the starting material, reagent and catalyst. At the end of the reaction, extra operations (known as 'work up') are required to separate the product from by-products and any remaining starting materials. Work up/separation procedures can be complicated and time-consuming, and can constitute 40-70% of the costs of chemical processes. It also consumes extra resources (energy, material, additional solvent), which is detrimental to the environment.

One way of overcoming the separation issue is to conduct multiphase reactions, where the starting material and the reagent are dissolved in immiscible solvents (such as oil and water). After the reaction, the products remain physically separated from the reagent and byproducts, which simplifies the workup procedure. However, there are several fundamental issues that need to be addressed; namely, how fast reactions can occur at the interface, and how to control it precisely to afford reproducible and predictable outcomes (which is very important for its eventual application in industry).

The proposed programme will develop a new type of continuous manufacturing process for multiphase oxidations. First, it will use electrochemistry to generate inorganic oxidants in water from non-hazardous inorganic salts and electricity. The solution of oxidant will be mixed with reactants in an immiscible solvent, using a specially designed reactor that generates an emulsion from the two immiscible fluids. After the reaction, the two different phases then separate out naturally, thus simplifying the workup procedure.

The research programme will focus on the generation of different oxidants and their intrinsic reactivity. We will also develop novel emulsion forming systems to handle liquid/liquid reactive flows. The rates of the various steps in the process will be determined, to produce a predictive model that we can be used to construct a mini-plant for demonstration purposes. The research will be in collaboration with Dr Klaus Hellgardt of Imperial College, London.

 

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Department of Chemical Engineering
Loughborough University
LE11 3TU
UK

+44 (0)1509 222 533