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From batch to flow tubular reactors

The conversion of batch processes into continuous flow processes is one way to speed up chemical processes and make them more efficient and more economical with regard to energy consumption. The replacement of batch reactors with continuous flow tubular reactors is the answer for many processes. TNO has been researching this type of reactor for some time now and has developed various applications for them. One example is the TNO Helix® reactor.

The tubular reactor is eminently suitable for processes which produce extreme quantities of heat, but can also be used for processes in which solid substances must be kept in suspension. Tubular reactors have two big advantages when it comes to chemical processes. The heat development is much easier to control than in a batch reactor because the tubular reactor has a relatively large surface area. The residence time of molecules in the tube is, furthermore, better defined so that reaction products are far less likely to react further or degenerate. As a result, the process is much easier to manage, making this technology suitable for strongly exothermic reactions or toxic chemicals, for instance.

Increasing interest

The advantages of continuous flow in bulk chemistry are acknowledged and this technology is already being used on a large scale in this field. With the emergence of new production techniques, new materials and knowledge of microreactor technology, it is now also possible to use continuous flow technology on a much smaller scale. It is, therefore, now also coming within reach of the fine chemistry and pharmaceutical industries. Investment in flow reactors is worth considering, certainly in the case of new products. The time-to-market for these products can be shortened considerably by using continuous microreactors which can be scaled up rapidly and easily. TNO has ascertained an increasing interest in this new technology within these industries. Chemical companies, knowledge institutes and equipment builders are working together with TNO in various projects on the development of demonstration mini-factory set-ups for producing commercial chemical products.

Precise determination possible

In the fine chemistry and pharmaceutical industries, the tubular reactor is particularly suitable for highly toxic processes or those involving explosive or flammable substances where there are safety issues. Because of the smaller volumes, the quantities of hazardous substances in the reactor are limited. The time molecules spend at different locations in the tube as well as their path can be determined precisely. These aspects are much more difficult to determine in a batch reactor. Tubular reactors usually also have a smaller hold-up than their batch equivalents. In a continuous reactor, the entire production is not lost if the process goes wrong. If a batch process breaks down, however, the entire batch has to be reprocessed or it may even have to be disposed of. Chemical or pharmaceutical companies are welcome in TNO's lab to learn about process innovation and the possibilities with regard to flow chemistry. TNO is happy to pass on knowledge and expertise to companies to help them innovate their processes - whether it is with 'cutting edge' or existing technology.


Dr. ir. Leon Geers

  • transport phenomena
  • process intensification
  • experimental data analysis
  • mathematical modeling
  • flow chemistry

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