Crystallisation for manufacturing takes shape

Work is underway at the Bath Node of the newly-established EPSRC Centre for Innovation manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation (CMAC), led by Professor Chick Wilson from our Department of Chemistry.

Current methods of producing chemicals, as used by the pharmaceutical industry and chemical companies, can involve expensive or harmful solvents and require a substantial amount of heat energy to run the chemical reactors.

Chemicals are usually produced in batches, however researchers from both the original Centre funding and from the newly-established Doctoral Training Centre are now engaged in projects to optimise the production of important molecular materials using continuous flow methods.

“The driving force for the Centre is the desire of industry to move from batch to continuous processing", explains Professor Wilson. "This has major benefits for the environment - reducing operational costs and footprint, minimising energy use and waste, and offering the potential for significantly improved control and quality of the product particles resulting from the manufacturing process".

Instead of using traditional batch chemical reactors, the Centre focuses on using the Continuous Oscillating Baffled Crystalliser (COBC), such as that installed in the laboratory in our Department of Chemistry at Bath. Industry partners include major pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Novartis, as well as a range of other fine chemicals and manufacturing technology companies.

The Bath team, with an initial tranche of funding of around £400k from the Centre, is using its expertise to understand the science behind how improved solid forms of particular chemicals are made, and optimising the process so the same products can be made using a continuous process.

Professor Wilson added: “We are also working with our industrial partners on adapting existing chemicals, such as drug molecules, to improve their properties and develop a method of formulating them to make sure the process is chemically consistent”.

Kate Wittering, a PhD student on the project, comments, "It is great to be involved in a national project such as CMAC, with such major industrial partners. The chemistry we are doing here in Bath provides some really interesting molecular systems, and being involved at the cutting-edge of transferring these into the continuous environment that our industry partners want is both challenging and exciting.”

The project is a multi-institution, multi-industry collaboration led by the University of Strathclyde, and involving, as well as Bath, the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt and Loughborough.

It has obtained more than £10M EPSRC funding for the National Centre for Innovative Manufacturing and associated Doctoral Training Centre, as well as substantial industrial funding.

The full DTC student cohort make their first visit to Bath in the week beginning 19 November, as part of their integrated training programme. Professor Wilson has been involved in the CMAC project since its inception, holding the original Scottish Funding Council grant – under their SPIRIT Knowledge Exchange scheme – that provided the initial academic funding for the project.

He leads Node 3 of the Centre, focused on "Continuous crystallisation for the fabrication and manufacture of new molecular and nanomaterials", in collaboration with the University of Glasgow.

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