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A microreactor or microstructured reactor or microchannel reactor is a device in which chemical reactions take place in a confinement with typical lateral dimensions below 1 mm; the most typical form of such confinement are microchannels. Microreactors are studied in the field of micro process engineering, together with other devices (such as micro heat exchangers) in which physical processes occur. The microreactor is usually a continuous flow reactor (contrast with/to a batch reactor). Microreactors offer many advantages over conventional scale reactors, including vast improvements in energy efficiency, reaction speed and yield, safety, reliability, scalability, on-site/on-demand production, and a much finer degree of process control.
Additional recommended knowledge
Gas-phase microreactors have a long history but those involving liquids started to appear in the late 1990s. One of the first microreactors with embedded high performance heat exchangers were made in the early 1990s by the Central Experimentation Department (Hauptabteilung Versuchstechnik, HVT) of Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe in Germany, using mechanical micromachining techniques that were a spinoff from the manufacture of separation nozzles for uranium enrichment. As research on nuclear technology was drastically reduced in Germany, microstructured heat exchangers were investigated for their application in handling highly exothermic and dangerous chemical reactions. This new concept, known by names as microreaction technology or micro process engineering, was further developed by various research institutions. An early example from 1997 involved that of azo couplings in a pyrex reactor with channel dimensions 90 micrometres deep and 190 micrometres wide.
Using microreactors is somewhat different from using a glass vessel. These reactors may be a valuable tool in the hands of an experienced chemist or reaction engineer:
One of the simplest forms of a microreactor is a 'T' reactor. A 'T' shape is etched into a plate with a depth that may be 40 micrometres and a width of 100 micrometres: the etched path is turned into a tube by sealing a flat plate over the top of the etched groove. The cover plate has three holes that align to the top-left, top-right, and bottom of the 'T' so that fluids can be added and removed. A solution of reagent 'A' is pumped into the top left of the 'T' and solution 'B' is pumped into the top right of the 'T'. If the pumping rate is the same, the components meet at the top of the vertical part of the 'T' and begin to mix and react as they go down the trunk of the 'T'. A solution of product is removed at the base of the 'T'.
Microreactors can be used to synthesise material more effectively than current batch techniques allow. The benefits here are primarily enabled by the mass transfer, thermodynamics, and high surface area to volume ratio environment as well as engineering advantages in handling unstable intermediates. Microreactors are applied in combination with photochemistry, electrosynthesis, multicomponent reactions and polymerization (for example that of butyl acrylate). It can involve liquid-liquid systems but also solid-liquid systems with for example the channel walls coated with a heterogeneous catalyst. Synthesis is also combined with online purification of the product.
Microreactors can also enable experiments to be performed at a far lower scale and far higher experimental rates than currently possible in batch production, while not collecting the physical experimental output. The benefits here are primarily derived from the low operating scale, and the integration of the required sensor technologies to allow high quality understanding of an experiment. The integration of the required synthesis, purification and analytical capabilities is impractical when operating outside of a microfluidic context.
Microreactors, and more generally, micro process engineering, are the subject of worldwide academic research. A prominent recurring conference is IMRET, the International Conference on Microreaction Technology. Microreactors and micro process engineering have also been featured in dedicated sessions of other conferences, such as the Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), or the International Symposia on Chemical Reaction Engineering (ISCRE). Research is now also conducted at various academic institutions around the world, e.g. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge/MA, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and at Oregon State University in Corvallis/OR in the United States, at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, at Eindhoven University of Technology in Eindhoven and at Radboud University Nijmegen in Nijmegen, Netherlands and at the LIPHT  of Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France.
Depending on the application focus, there are various hardware suppliers and commercial development entities to service the evolving market. One view to technically segment market, offering and market clearing stems from the scientific and technological objective of market agents:
(a) Ready to Run (turnkey) systems are being used where the application environment stands to benefit from new chemical synthesis schemes, enhanced investigational throughput of up to approximately 10 - 100 experiments per day (depends on reaction time) and reaction subsystem, and actual synthesis conduct at scales ranging from 10 milligrams per experiment to triple digit tons per year (continuous operation of a reactor battery).
(b) Modular (open) systems are serving the niche for investigations on continuous process engineering lay-outs, where a measurable process advantage over the use of standardized equipment is anticipated by chemical engineers. Multiple process lay-outs can be rapidly assembled and chemical process results obtained on a scale ranging from several grams per experiment up to approximately 100 kg at a moderate number of experiments per day (3-15). A secondary transfer of engineering findings in the context of a plant engineering exercise (scale-out) then provides target capacity of typically single product dedicated plants. This mimics the success of engineering contractors for the petro-chemical process industry.
(c) Dedicated developments. Manufacturer of microstructured components are mostly commercial development partners to scientists in search of novel synthesis technologies. Such development partners typically excel in the set-up of comprehensive investigation and supply schemes, to model a desired contacting pattern or spatial arrangement of matter. To do so they predominantly offer information from proprietary integrated modeling systems that combine computational fluid dynamics with thermokinetic modelling. Moreover, as a rule, such development partners establish the overall application analytics to the point where the critical initial hypothesis can be validated and further confined.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Microreactor". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|