Chemical Reactor Engineering

The research in the Chemical Reactor Engineering group is concentrated on three main topic area’s: “high-gravity high-shear multiphase reactors”, “microstructured reactors and devices” and “catalysis engineering”.

The research area of "high-gravity high-shear multiphase reactors" focuses on the development of catalytic and non-catalytic multiphase reactor systems that use rotation to create high gravity and high shear conditions. These conditions lead to excellent interphase mass transfer, excellent intraphase mixing, and excellent fluid-to-wall heat transfer. Applications are especially in (exothermic) fast reactions that are interphase mass transfer limited, are mixing limited, or are heat transfer limited. Additionally, in a high gravity field two phases with different density can be contacted countercurrently, which opens up possibilities for separation processes. Thus, distillation (gas-liquid), extraction (liquid-liquid), and crystallization (liquid-solid) become feasible. The two main reactor concepts that research is focusing on are the ‘spinning disk reactor’ and the ‘rotating foam reactor’. The high-gravity high-shear conditions enable the use of extremely compact equipment for chemical process industry. The equipment is easily a factor hundred smaller than conventional equipment. The much smaller equipment size allows for the safe use of high temperatures and high pressures, enlarging the economic process window. An additional benefit of the small equipment size is that more expensive construction material can be used. Furthermore, individual parts can be coated with plastics (teflon), diamant, corrosion resistive metals (gold, platina, tantalum) etc., with only a minor increase in material costs. Even clean room technology can be used to etch specific microstructures in the contact surfaces to enhance the performance. In 2012 the spin-off company ‘SpinID’ was lauched from within the group to commercialize the spinning disk reactor technology being developed within this research line.

The research area of "microstructured reactors and devices" focuses on the development of microchemical systems that provide intricate geometries with characteristic length scales of 10-100 µm for optimum mixing, mass and heat transfer, (catalytic) reaction, and product separation. The challenge is to explore the potential benefits of these miniaturized chemical systems in terms of e.g. productivity, selectivity, energy efficiency, new reaction pathways, safety, and environmental benign manufacturing. A particular innovative aspect is to take benefit of microfabrication technologies for integrating sensors and actuators for process monitoring and control. Areas of application include fuel processing and hydrogen production, high-throughput catalyst screening, and chemicals synthesis ("process on a chip"). Research is focusing on scale-up of microreactors to industrial scale, multifunctional reactors (combining multiple reactions or reaction with separation), and the preparation of catalysts in microreactors.

The research area of “Catalysis Engineering” is bringing together the fields of Reactor Engineering with Catalysis, one of the other focus points in the department. A state of the art catalyst requires a state of the art reactor to function optimally and vice versa. In case one has an understanding of both the catalyst and the processes occurring in the chemical reactor, it will be possible to develop a more efficient system. Especially in a reaction system in which not only the desired reaction occurs, but also competing reactions, causing a loss in selectivity or a deactivation of the catalyst, having an understanding of the entire system will be very beneficial. An optimal design of the catalyst-reactor system will only be possible by optimizing all the relevant length scales, from the site of the catalyst, to the mass transfer length in the catalyst, to the catalyst particle size and shape (determining the external mass transfer), and the macromixing behavior in the reactor (determining the local environment of the catalyst). Within this research area, we are converting the reactor concepts (rotating reactors and microreactors) that we are developing in the other research lines into catalytic reactors, perform kinetic and mass transfer measurements on these catalytic systems to improve the understanding of both the catalyst and reactor to improve them further and be able to model their behavior.



Running projects

  • Design of novel bifunctional gold-Ti- and Fe-modified zeolite functional materials for the catalytic oxidation of hydrocarbons
  • Open micro-structured random packing in GLS reactors for FT catalyst and reactor development
  • High gravity high shear for intensified chemicals production
  • High pressure, temperature and concentration intensified biobased conversion processes