The scope for microreactors

Paul Boughton
Consolidation and process intensification in the past few years seems to be the buzzword for the global chemical industry

The advent of microreactors has furthered the scope for various manufacturers to address the growing challenges of margin shrinkage and environmental concerns associated with this industry. Increasing evidence shows that certain issues related to mixing such as mass transfer, heat transfer and hydrodynamics in the conventional batch processes can be easily overcome with the use of microreactors.

Analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that the pertinent characteristics of microreactors were instrumental in the development of several high-quality products catering to different application segments. Several governmental and non-governmental agencies fund some of these application sectors and the gains should surface in a span of a few years after microreactors commercially establish themselves in a majority of the industries.

"Issues with conventional mixing processes have resulted in unnecessary slow transformations that invariably result in the creation of side reactions as well as unwanted products," notes analyst Rajaram Vijayan. "The smaller sizes of microreactors or microchannelled reactors ensure that fast reactions occur with reaction kinetics considered to be the main limiting factor."

The advent of microreactors makes it easier to conduct one-step reactions. Hence, the conventional chemical reactions that produce by-products and waste products can easily be utilised in microreactors to eliminate these alternate reactions, thereby preparing high-quality products. Moreover, the fast reaction rates ensure higher yields of up to 100 per cent with high quality and no side reactions. Product quality is enhanced through the accurate control of operation parameters such as pressure, temperature and space velocities.

The scope for microreactors in fuel and chemical processing is high. However, the non-availability of any commercial demonstration unit that can be retrofitted to an existing facility prevents manufacturers from taking a huge financial risk in their facilities. The risk factor becomes quite high due to the high capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operational expenditure (OPEX) associated with manufacturing and any negligent conditions could alter margins in a substantial manner.

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