Micro Flow Chemistry & Process Technology

Mission and Goals

The use of continuous manufacturing is very common in the petrochemical industry, whereas in the pharmaceutical industry, the most used manufacturing principle remains batch processing. However, in recent years, continuous manufacturing has been recognized as one of the key green engineering research areas by the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable. One of the main reasons why the pharmaceutical industry has not changed its entire production process to continuous flow is the requirement of special equipment (investment cost). In addition, specialized equipment is of high risk as the company has typically only a few people who are familiar with continuous manufacturing and who can trouble shoot in case of failure. However, most companies have established small continuous-flow research groups as they recognize the importance of the technology. As such, continuous-flow processing will slowly but definitely gain ground, eventually complementing established batch techniques as a viable alternative.

New discoveries and technological advances have opened up countless opportunities to facilitate synthetic organic chemistry in flow. Continuous-flow reactors have been increasingly used in synthetic organic chemistry to facilitate chemistries which are otherwise difficult to carry out. This includes gas-liquid reactions, photochemical transformations, chemistries utilizing hazardous compounds, extreme reaction conditions and multistep reaction sequences. Underlying all these advances are chemical engineering principles that enable chemical processes to be carried out under perfectly controlled reaction conditions.

Our group has initiated a research program to contribute to this rapid changing field. Our aim is to develop novel flow methods which facilitate organic synthetic chemistries driven by green activation modes, such as photochemistry and electrochemistry. Hereto, we utilize mechanistic and empirical approaches which combine synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry and chemical engineering principles. Consequently, we have approached fundamental organic chemistry problems in a holistic fashion.

At the same time, while the field has witnessed great progress within the last decade, many challenges remain. Incompatible multistep reaction sequences, solids handling reactions and scalability of microreactors have been in the focus of many research proposals but still represent to be a threat to efficient continuous manufacturing and thus its implementation in the chemical industry. The roots of these issues lie in the lack of combined fundamental understanding of organic chemistry and chemical engineering. As these fields are often separated entities, it is quite hard to come up with solutions which satisfy both fields. Our approach to these challenges has been unique in the world as we combine fundamental chemical engineering with hardcore organic synthetic chemistry. This allows us to look at a given problem from different angles resulting in a holistic solution.

Our dream is to realize the synthesis of complex molecules with biological properties in a fully automated fashion and driven by renewable energy sources. Scientific results and technologies which arise from these dreams will be of great benefit to the chemical industry which is constantly under pressure as a consequence of increasing labor, energy and raw material costs. However, these solutions will also aid the academic researcher in realizing his/her scientific goals faster. Finally, this will be of great advantage to the community as well (e.g. no drug shortages, improved activity of pharmaceuticals with less side effects, reduced chemical waste, delocalized production units etc.).

In conclusion, the aim of our research is to drive the scientific discovery in the laboratory through to real applications in the industry.

The group under Associate Prof.Dr. Timothy Noël focuses on advanced synthetic chemistry exploration in flow. This involves most of all photocatalysis, electrochemistry and homogeneous catalysis and is applied to fluorinations, C-C coupling, C-H activation and more cutting-edge chemistries. Another subgroup under part-time Prof.dr.ing. Gunther Kolb dedicates to energy applications of microreactors such as fuel processing, Fischer-Tropsch and biofuels.

Running projects

  • Development of innovative catalysts for Syngas adjustment and Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis from Biomass for Integrated and Decentralised Production of Renewable Synthetic Fuels
  • Catalytic Partial Oxidation of Bio Gas and Reforming of Pyrolysis Oil (Bio Oil) for an Autothermal Synthesis Gas Production and Conversion into Fuels
  • CO2-neutral MeOH Synthesis from CO2 and H2 by Smart-Scaled, Reaction-Integrated Plasma Process
  • Photo4Future - Accelerating photoredox catalysis in continuous flow systems
  • Sensitized photoredox catalysis in continuous microfluidic reactors
  • Catalyst Cascade Reactions in 'One-Flow' within a compartmentalized, green-solvent 'Digital Synthesis Machinery' - End-to-end green process design for pharmaceuticals
  • Piloting cascaded continuous flow synthesis for the pharmaceutical industry