Continuous flow chemistry

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6 November 2019

This post explains how Equilibar® dome loaded diaphragm sealed technology contributes to the effective management of relevant process parameters in continuous flow chemistry. We also include the perspective of our customer Flowid BV about their successful implementation of our back pressure regulators in process intensification projects.

Continuous flow chemistry

Continuous flow chemistry is a promising technology that could potentially initiate a revolution in the chemical process industry. “Plug flow chemistry”, as continuous flow chemistry was often referred to in the past, is the process of performing chemical reactions in a tube or pipe. Reactive components are mixed under continuous flow at controlled process conditions. Faster reactions through superheating, safer reactions because of limited interaction between substances, reaction optimization, and easier scale-up of processes are among the substantial benefits associated with this field of expertise. Over the last 10 to 20 years a lot of research has been done by several institutes and R&D departments in the most sophisticated laboratories. Often with interesting results, so it is generally expected that continuous flow chemistry will bring about more scientific advancement.

Challenges and solutions in continuous flow chemistry: controlling process parameters

One of the challenges in continuous flow chemistry is controlling all process parameters. Equilibar dome-loaded diaphragm-sealed technology has proven to be very efficient in this respect: This unique back pressure technology enables to keep the continuous flow reactor at a constant pressure under the most severe conditions. Especially in research, the operating limits should be as wide as possible to allow researchers to explore all process conditions. The unique Cv rangeability of the Equilibar back pressure regulator enables engineers to achieve huge turndown ratios (of up to 1:1.000.000) allowing them to scan for optimal process conditions. Even when products coming from the reactor consist of two phases, the back pressure regulator will keep the upstream pressure constant. Lastly, high temperatures and aggressive media are no obstacles for the straightforward construction that consists of a body, a cap, and one diaphragm sealed by two O-rings.

Recently we have seen flow chemistry moving from research laboratory entering pilot plant scale and even production scale. Since our back pressure technology is easily scalable, higher flows can be achieved without limiting the rangeability of the process that was optimized on the lab scale. Therefore, Equilibar back pressure technology is also a good fit for larger-scale applications in continuous flow chemistry.

This schematic illustrates what the process setup for continuous flow chemistry may look like.

User case: Flowid B.V. designs continuous process solutions using Equilibar ® technology

Wessel Hengeveld, CEO of Flowid B.V. –  customer of PCS and early adopter of Equilibar ® technology – said the following about the impact of flow chemistry and the use of Equilibar back pressure regulators in his field of expertise:
“Flow chemistry is particularly useful for process intensification through higher temperature and/or higher pressures, compared to conventional (batch) reactor technologies. When the process is intensified, the process yield can be increased, and/or processing time can be reduced. Flowid exploits the potential of flow chemistry and realizes set-ups for clients to implement this technology within their organization. For our applications, it is of vital importance that the pressure in the set-up can be easily adjusted and will remain constant at the setpoint. Furthermore, flow chemistry applications regularly are multiphase; gas-liquid, liquid-liquid or even solid–liquid. There is no alternative for Equilibar back pressure regulators in the current market for these applications. For sure, they are the most reliable choice currently available.”

To illustrate how our back pressure regulators are used in research based on continuous flow chemistry, Wessel continues: “Higher pressures enable higher temperatures in the continuous reactors. This enables higher yields and reduced processing time because reactions become faster.”  

Stable pressure control of the multiphase flow of liquid-liquid, gas-liquid or even solid–liquid was Flowid’s main challenge. Using an Equilibar back pressure regulator in combination with electronic pressure controllers and chemical resistant O-rings and diaphragms has made it possible to overcome this challenge. According to Wessel the implementation of this solution is easy enough: “Very few adjustments were required once the flow rate was established, and no further adjustments of the set-point were required despite varying reactor temperatures”.

Do you want to learn more or discuss your application with us?

If you want to learn more about applying Equilibar back pressure technology in your application, please contact us or request a quotation.