Department of Chemical Engineering

Continuous flow solutions for pharmaceutical manufacture

Department of Chemical Engineering in collaboration with Mast Carbons International Ltd.



In the face of rising economic, technological and environmental challenges, UK pharmaceutical companies are seeking smarter and greener ways to manufacture medicinal products.

Continuous processing, in which chemicals are manufactured in an ongoing process rather than in discrete batches, is an attractive proposition. 

It offers many potential advantages from shortening the development time from laboratory to production scale, through to being less wasteful, more environmentally favourable, and potentially safer; however, industry has been slow in responding to the potential opportunities of continuous processing.


In 2006, researchers at Bath filed a patent for a continuous flow reactor, and having subsequently made technological improvements and undertaken testing of model reactions, the team was poised to engage with industrial partners.

Through this KTA funded project, the team was able to further demonstrate the viability of continuous processing, while responding to the needs of industrial partners, and facilitating the scaling up from laboratory to commercial scale. Following discussions with leading pharmaceutical companies, reactions of interest were identified and were studied in more detail.

Then, working with Mast Carbons International Ltd, novel carbon monoliths were used as catalyst supports, which in this concept are retained in the reactor, and our researchers demonstrated the viability of such processes. They also developed a laboratory bench-top Mini-Mo (mini-monolith) Reactor, which will facilitate the translation of this concept from laboratory to a pilot-scale Radiator Monolith Reactor.


Benefits and outcomes

This type of process could be used to achieve more sustainable manufacture of pharmaceuticals, where either partial oxidation reactions, or hydrogenation reactions take place, for example during the manufacture of Paracetamol. Currently, negotiations are taking place with industrial partners concerning the commercial development of continuous process reactors drawing upon Bath’s designs.

The technology offers multiple commercial opportunities - the best may come from new drugs and new reaction pathways, and there is also potential to work with pharmaceutical companies and their external suppliers to develop more sustainable methods for manufacturing conventional pharmaceuticals.