SIMPLI-DEMO, the Demonstration of Sonication and Microwave Processing of essential chemicals project, aims at strengthening the chemical process industry and in particular the specialty chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries in its capacity to produce materials and chemicals in a sustainable and competitive way by moving from batch to continuous and modular production with flexibility being ensured by the application of alternative energy forms. Currently, the conventional technologies in the specialty and pharma sector tend to be batch-type, combined with mechanical mixing and conduction-based heat transfer, inherently leading to poor process control. SIMPLI-DEMO’s vision is that of intensified processes, where alternative energy sources enable continuous and modular technologies to achieve localized actuation of multiphase, flow reactors for the purpose of high-value product synthesis. SIMPLI-DEMO focuses on the synthesis of specialty polymers and particles for use in a wide variety of every-day-use products, e.g. insulation, paints and coatings, plastics, catalysts, as well as health applications, which are important domains in the chemical industry today and into the future. Therefore, SIMPLI-DEMO advances the technology readiness level (TRL) of modular flow technology for multiphase streams involving suspensions or viscous products from TRL5 (validation in relevant environment) to TRL7 (industrial system demonstration). The investigated case-studies deal with functionalized polymers, zeolite catalyst and APIs, which are all high added value materials. In general, the targeted process streams (suspensions, high viscosity) are often encountered in the specialty chemical sector, a sector known for its manufacturing of high added value chemicals.
SIMPLI-DEMO has selected two major classes of specialty processes to achieve these specific objectives:
i. The class of chemical processes involving highly viscous streams, with reactive extrusion (REX) as the continuous technology of choice. Two end-users are involved here: COAT – interested in isocyanate-based polyurethane and polyether synthesis, MGR – interested in non-isocyanate-based polyurethane synthesis;
ii. The class of chemical processes involving suspensions, with reactive crystallization in a continuous oscillatory baffle reactor (COBR) as the continuous technology of choice. Again, two end-users are involved: ARK – interested in zeolite synthesis, GEH – interested in API synthesis.
SIMPLI-DEMO focuses on new modular concepts at five levels:
i. The selection of REX and COBR as flow process equipment allows to flexibly and optimally locate unit operations (e.g., mixing, heating/cooling, reacting, maturing) along the length of the reactor;
ii. The length and interior (i.e. number and geometry of screw or baffle elements) of the process equipment can be altered so that residence time and mixing efficiency is flexible;
iii. The introduction of US and MW allows to modulate (local) heating and mixing flexibly and instantly;
iv. The reactor equipment is integrated with pre- and post-reactor equipment (e.g. preheating, filtering) to achieve stand-alone production units;
v. The automation technology is modularized with an open, system-independent approach for modular systems in process industry.
SIMPLI-DEMO has brought together a consortium of four end-user chemical companies (COAT, MGR, ARK, GEH), two technology suppliers (WU – ultrasound technology, MU – microwave technology), five universities and research institutions (TUDO – process control & automation, FHG – reactive extrusion, HWU – oscillatory flow, KUL – ultrasound, NTUA – microwaves), one SME experienced in modular automation (LEI) and another SME experienced in sustainability assessment and exploitation (ARI). All selected case-studies rely on prior art up to at least TRL4 to bring TRL from 5 (technology validated in relevant environment) at the start of the project to a level of 7 (industrial system prototype demonstration) at the end of the four-year project.
March 28-30, 2023