Process Intensification Using an Advanced Flow Reactor

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Chemical Engineering


The aim of the proposed research is to characterize interfacial transport processes on the milli-scale using an advanced flow reactor. Two-phase flow in microreactors is usually established as Taylor flow (one phase continuous, the second phase dispersed in slugs/bubbles), where the mass transfer is highly connected to secondary flow structures. Advancing to the milli-scale, the phase distribution varies and highly depends on the design of the employed flow reactor. Therefore, to scale-up the mass transfer characteristics to the milli-scale the promotion of constant merging and breakup of bubbles/slugs has a major impact on mass transfer, through the constant change in shape and size of the interfacial area and the renewed boundary layers.
The uncovering of the physical mechanisms of these effects and their connection to the fluid-structure interaction will allow for more efficient design of chemical flow systems, and is thus an important step in process intensification.

Planned Impact

The results of the proposed research will have a broad impact across several disciplines, and they will contribute to the efforts in process intensification and sustainable manufacturing. Specifically, the beneficiaries are comprised of pharmaceutical and fine chemistry companies, and researchers from various fields in academia. Especially the industrial engagement will then further transpire to have a socio-economic impact. Furthermore, it will contribute to the EPSRC research efforts in the area of Manufacturing the future, more specifically to the sub-themes of Innovative production processes and Sustainable industrial systems.
The following lists the beneficiaries in more detail:
- Fine chemical and pharmaceutical industry
The proposed research is directly targeting process intensification and novel designs for continuous production exploring the milli-scale. Thus, the full characterization of transport processes in multiphase flows on this scale will lead to optimized and intensified design of continuous flow reactors. And implementing these newly developed concepts will allow for more sustainable production at a higher yield, which contributes to further savings of costs and energy. Long-term this entire process will also lead to a shift in the development strategy involved in industry, since the aim is not only to convert traditional batch processes to continuous flow, but also to explore novel operating windows allowed employing flow chemistry.
- Academia
The further development of the experimental techniques needed to address scalar transport processes will also find applications in general experimental fluid mechanics, and are not restricted to chemical engineering purposes. In general, multiphase flows are found in many energy conversion processes, and thus a contribution to the fundamental understanding of multiphase flows and a contribution to their experimental characterization will benefit the research in these relevant fields as well. The research project will also have an impact on academia through the training and further guidance of skilled researchers.
- Socio-economic impact
In addition to the benefits for the fine chemical and pharmaceutical industry outlined above, the proposed research will also have a major long-term socio-economically impact. As stated in the RSC report The Economic Benefits of Chemistry Research to the UK, the UK's upstream chemicals industry and downstream using sectors contributed a combined total of GBP 258 billion in value-added (equivalent to 21% of UK GDP). The report suggests that the exploitation of fundamental chemistry research is indispensable to the solution of some of the most important technological and societal challenges facing both the UK and the wider world (e.g. climate change, energy, food supply and health). It is concluded in the report, that the chemical industry sector is one of the leading sectors in terms of delivering high levels of social return on research investment.


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Wu K (2015) Hydrodynamic Study of Single- and Two-Phase Flow in an Advanced-Flow Reactor in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research

Description We were able (for the first time) to characterize a commercial flow reactor (from Corning) in a very detailed manner by establishing a laser-based measurement technique.
The results obtained in this work provide a detailed understanding of the two-phase flow hydrodynamics and transport processes in the reactor. Furthermore, the quality of the obtained experimental results can be used for the validation of two-phase flow CFD simulations that can constitute the basis of future improvements of flow reactor designs.
Exploitation Route It will help the manufacturing industries, e.g. for fine chemicals, to design novel and improved reactors for flow chemistry.
Sectors Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Throughout the project we shared our results with the commercial provider of the flow reactor, Corning. Based on our experimental observations and the efforts in CFD model development avenues for further improvement of the design have been identified.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic