Extended process windows for self-optimisation in continuous flow

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Project background (identification of the problem and its importance and relevance to sustainability)

The uptake of greener manufacturing methods plays a pivotal role in reducing the contributions of chemical manufacture towards greenhouse emissions. At the same time there is mounting pressure for chemical and pharmaceutical companies to adopt more sustainable manufacturing approaches to meet the UK's target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

As the demand for chemical and biopharmaceutical targets shifts away from traditional "blockbuster drugs" and towards small-scale manufacture of a diverse range of compounds, there is a need to develop novel sustainable chemical technologies for modern manufacturing. This is being facilitated in part by the transfer of existing reactions from batch into flow which offers better control over energy and mass transfer, greater flexibility in integrating multi-step processes and can provide access into previously unexplored chemical territory. The shift has been driven by the development of new reactors for photochemical, electrochemical, and thermal transformations. Individually and combined, these approaches are key in the development of a sustainable chemistry industry with the ability to offer efficient routes for complex chemical synthesis. Furthermore, flow systems also permit the safer use of hazardous chemicals and harsher reaction conditions such as high pressure and temperature.

Proposed solution and methodology

This project seeks to develop new approaches for thermal, photo- and electro- chemistry in flow to solve challenges within sustainability. This will be achieved through the development and deployment of specialist reactors which can operate within so-called extended process windows (EPWs) with process intensification to reap dramatic reductions in reaction time by maximising reaction kinetics, whilst maintaining acceptable product selectivity.

This Project aims to:

Exploit the benefits of high temperature water and other less hazardous solvents in continuous flow across a range of processes and to compare their performance with traditional organic solvents. The chemistry will include:

Singlet oxygen chemistry

Photoredox catalysis

Acid/base catalysis at high temperatures

Develop new photochemical processes for the intensification and optimisation of chemical reactions of potential industrial interest.

Explore a range of analytical techniques for effective reaction monitoring and to use one or more of these techniques in combination with appropriate reaction models for process control.

Leverage the combined benefits of machine learning-based predictive algorithms and process analytical technology (PAT) to conduct chemical reactions in an efficient, more informed manner.

Planned Impact

This CDT will deliver impact aligned to the following agendas:

A2P will provide over 60 PhD graduates with the skill sets required to deliver innovative sustainable products and processes into the UK chemicals manufacturing industry. A2P will inspire and develop leaders who will:
- understand the needs of industrial end-users;
- embed sustainability across a range of sectors; and
- catalyse the transition to a more productive and resilient UK economy.

A2P will promote a step change towards a circular economy that embraces resilience and efficiency in terms of atoms and energy. The benefits of adopting more sustainable design principles and smarter production are clear. For example, the global production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) has been estimated at 65,000-100,000 tonnes per annum. The scale of associated waste is > 10 million tonnes per annum with a disposal cost of more than £15 billion. Consequently, even a modest efficiency increase by applying new, more sustainable chemical processes would deliver substantial economic savings and environmental wins. A2P will seek and deliver systematic gains across all sectors of the chemicals manufacturing industry. Our goals of providing cross-scale training in chemical sciences with economic and life- cycle awareness will drive uptake of sustainable best practice in UK industry, leading to improved economic competitiveness.

This CDT will deliver significant new knowledge in the development of more sustainable processes and products. It will integrate the philosophy of sustainability with catalysis, synthetic methodology, process engineering, and scale-up. Critical concepts such as energy/resource efficiency, life cycle analysis, recycling, and sustainability metrics will become seamlessly joined to what is considered a 'normal' approach to new molecular products. This knowledge and experience will be shared through publications, conferences and other engagement activities. A2P partners will provide efficient routes to market ensuring the efficient translation and transferal of new technologies is realised, ensuring impact is achieved.

The chemistry-using industries manufacture a rich portfolio of products that are critical in maintaining a high quality of life in the UK. A2P will provide highly trained people and new knowledge to develop smarter, better products, whilst increasing the efficiency and sustainability of chemicals manufacture.
To amplify the impacts of our CDT, effective public engagement and technology transfer will become crucially important. As a general comment, 'sustainability' styled research is often regarded in a positive light by society, however, the science that underpins its effective implementation is often poorly appreciated. The University of Nottingham has developed an effective communication portfolio (with dedicated outreach staff) to tackle this issue. In addition to more traditional routes of scientific communication and dissemination, A2P will develop a portfolio of engagement and outreach activities including blogs, webpages, public outreach events, and contribution of material to our award-winning YouTube channel, www.periodicvideos.com.

A2P will build on our successful Sustainable Chemicals and Processes Industry Forum (SCIF), which will provide entry to networks with a wide range of chemical science end-users (spanning multinationals through to speciality SMEs), policy makers and regulators. We will share new scientific developments and best practice with leaders in these areas, to help realise the full impact of our CDT. Annual showcase events will provide a forum where knowledge may be disseminated to partners, we will broaden these events to include participants from thematically linked CDTs from across the UK, we will build on our track record of delivering hi-impact inter-CDT events with complementary centres hosted by the Universities of Bath and Bristol.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022236/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2445549 Studentship EP/S022236/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Hamza Ali