Chemistry & Life Sciences

Experts Statements: Dirk Kirschneck, Microinnova

Flow Chemistry: A Mature Technology still on the Rise

20.04.2020 - The change in many chemical companies’ product portfolio away from commodities to customer-specific specialties is one of the current challenges facing the process industry.

Flow chemistry or milli- and micro reaction technology (MRT) is a platform that can offer enormous advantages in this respect. But MRT has not yet achieved the status in fine chemicals and active ingredient manufacturing that one might expect. What are the reasons for this reluctance?

CHEManager asked executives and industry experts dealing with flow che­m­istry so share their opinion on why some industry sectors are so reluctant in adopting continuous production processes. We wanted to know:

How would you define the essence of flow chemistry?

Dirk Kirschneck: I see the essence of flow chemistry in the opportunity to innovate chemical processing in two main ways. The first opportunity is to intensify processing by optimizing space-time-yield, leading to fast, efficient and safe chemical processing. The second opportunity is to work with modular plants that have some on-module flexibility, for example realized by means of 3D-printed reactors. The main driver is to minimize the time-to-produce.

Which factors are affecting the global flow chemistry market and the implementation of flow chemistry in the industry?

Dirk Kirschneck: I expect a strong impact of Covid-19 on the flow chemistry and continuous processing community. Governments see that parts of the processing industries are key resources. The ability to have access to modular and flexible pilot plants and manufacturing units offers the option to take action, especially in crisis situations. Sourcing medical diagnostics, treatments and items such as reagents and intermediates are critical for the crisis management. The response to a dramatically changing demand contains a high value, especially in cases where the supply from other parts of the world is not stable. Modular plants using continuous manufacturing can deliver a minimized time-to-produce.

Should there be simplified approval procedures for flow chemistry processes or plants, and is the technology sufficiently covered in academic education

Dirk Kirschneck: I think that a two-step strategy makes sense. Engineered modules can be delivered with a set of safety relevant documents by plant construction companies. This can be seen as a pre-HAZOP (short for hazard and operability) analysis, which enable the operator to speed up their HAZOP analysis. Another aspect is the existence of reduced worst-case scenarios. If the active volume can be reduced by a factor of 10, especially in the case of hazardous reactions, new safety concepts can be realized. These new opportunities should lead to simplified approval procedures, enabling the industry to react quickly on market opportunities and, therefore, increase the competitiveness.