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Dr Victor Sans Sangorrin
Dr Victor Sans Sangorrin is working with Dr Alexei Lapkin on the project that uses Raman spectroscopy techniques

Internal News - 30 October 2008

Researchers help develop greener chemical reactors

Researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering are working in collaboration with other UK universities to develop materials which respond to stimuli, such as pH, heat and light that will pave the way for safer, greener and more efficient chemical reactors.

Dr Alexei Lapkin and Dr Victor Sans Sangorrin are working with researchers at the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow to integrate nanostructures that can regulate reactions, momentum, and heat and mass transfer into chemical reactors. This technology will provide a step change in reactor technology for the chemical, pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

The programme involves designing and producing molecular metal oxides and polymers as building blocks, and engineering those blocks to form nanoscopic particles, which are responsive to internal and / or external stimuli such as pH, heat or light. The structures can be dispersed in fluid, or coated on the reactor walls.

As conditions inside the reactor change, these ‘smart’ particles will respond by changing their size, shape, or structure. These changes could then regulate the chemical reactions by altering properties inside the reactor such as thermal conductivity and viscosity, and catalyst activity.

Dr Lapkin explained: “The next generation of chemical reactors will be able to keep conditions constant by monitoring and automatically regulating systems. In this way it mimics the way the human body keeps its temperature stable by continually checking and adjusting it.

“At Bath we are using a sophisticated type of spectroscopy called Raman confocal microscopy to study the behaviour of these ‘smart’ materials in micron-scale reactors.”

Professor Yulong Ding, of the Institute of Particle Science and Engineering at the University of Leeds, said: “This research programme is an important step towards producing the next generation of ‘smart’ small footprint, greener reactors. The responsive reaction systems we are investigating could make the measurement systems currently used in reactors redundant.”

The researchers believe that these new systems also have the potential to eliminate the risk of ‘runaway’, where a chemical reaction goes out of control.

The three-year programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), brings together leading experts in the fields of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Particle Science & Engineering.