Chemistry & Life Sciences

Experts Statements: Philippe Robin, Alysophil

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?

Philippe Robin: Flow chemistry is a biomimetic process. It reproduces material transformation observed in nature. Nature is known to employ the most efficient process. Developing the chemical industry with intensive use of flow chemistry will enable humanity to make huge progress in the production of goods, in terms of frugality, environmental footprint and safety. In addition, the size of equipment, the seamless scale-up and on-demand production are the kind of fits that are particularly appropriate for fine chemical production.

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

Philippe Robin: So far, in Alysophil’s experience, the industry approaches the implementation of flow chemistry for various reasons.

First, o reach enhanced industrial performance versus batch process (yield, conversion). Going beyond in performance, motivation to use flow chemistry is to improve safety. These processes concentrate at the same place, at the same time, much lower reactive compounds vs batch. In the case of process deviation leading to reaction’s runaway or leaks, the impact is restricted in a tiny danger zone vs batch. Then you may think to re-implement forbidden reactions: the ones that are very efficient but also very dangerous to master in batch. For instance, using of phosgene, which can be produced on demand and directly used in a subsequent reaction.

Second, considering environmental footprint examples are more and more focused on solvent-free reactions, energy performance, waste reduction, highly efficient new synthesis by using biosourced materials.

Third, the investment and running costs are a factor of differentiation vs batch. For many applications, flow chemistry costs might be 30-50% lower.

Forth the size of the equipment is another key point. Imagine if a surface of 15sqm could host a process producing 3000 metric t/y. This is definitively not lab scale but really an industrial one on a very tiny area.

Alysophil is convinced that flow chemistry may play a major role to invest in new chemical facilities in Europe. Such decisions may set a new balance in chemical production between Asia and Europe, which will strengthen the supply chain.

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

Philippe Robin: Simplified procedures are not necessary as the current regulations are already taking into account the mass involved in processes. So basically, the current regulations are very compliant with flow chemistry. The technology is not really new, but academics have formerly focused their courses on what batch industrials hoped. Beyond the technology, we need a new way of thinking about synthesis imagination, taking into account the capabilities of flow chemistry in terms of catalysis, photochemistry, flash chemistry and low lifetime intermediaries. That’s the reason why Alysophil develops artificial intelligence and use for chemistry.