Continuous-flow Synthesis of Functional Polymeric Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


In recent years, the field of continuous flow chemistry has become a powerful technique for multi-step synthesis of a wide range of organic compounds. It can provide a faster, cleaner and cheaper means of organic synthesis, while complex, multi-step syntheses can be conducted in series with relatively high yields through the rapid progression of intermediates. At present, most industrial scale polymer synthesis is carried out using batch techniques, which have some inherent disadvantages, such as the requirement to deal with large volumes of potentially hazardous chemicals, poor heat transfer and large volumes of waste material when batches fail.

The aim of this project is to design continuous-flow systems, which are optimised for the synthesis of a range of polymeric materials. A range of well established, controlled polymerisation techniques such as reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerisation and atom transfer radical polymerisation (ATRP) will be used will be used to synthesise various controlled structure polymers and responsive polymer nanoparticles. The unique properties of flow systems will be exploited in order to achieve finer control over the architecture of the polymer chains. For example, reducing the molecular weight distributions using precise temperature control; fine tuning the molecular weights of polymer chains by simply altering flow rates; and the synthesis of multi-block copolymers by sequential monomer addition will be investigated. Furthermore, subsequent block copolymer self-assembly and encapsulation will be attempted in series.

The resulting polymers and particles will be fully characterised using a range of analytical techniques including NMR spectroscopy, gel permeation chromatography (GPC), dynamic light scattering and electron microscopy. There may also be opportunities for developing on-line analysis during the synthesis in order to understand and further optimise such continuous-flow processes (e.g. On-line GPC).

Such accurate control will allow for reliable and reproducible preparation of polymeric systems with tuneable properties and potential applications in the healthcare, personal care, automotive and agrochemical industries. Furthermore, better heat transfer and reduced waste products allow a reduction in energy consumption, emissions and running costs.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1787231 Studentship EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 Sam Parkinson
Description We have discovered that continuous-flow reactors can be used to efficiently prepare polymer nanoparticles. We have also shown that the kinetics of the reaction can be monitored extremely precisely. Both these findings have important implications with respect to preparing new polymer materials.
Exploitation Route We hope other researchers can use the platform configuration and conditions we have optimized to design and synthesize novel polymer materials.
Sectors Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology