Carrying out chemical reactions is not always a safe process. The larger the scale of the reaction is, the bigger the hazards are. The Eindhoven-based company Flowid specializes in chemical reactors as big as a coffee cup, which can still process large quantities of chemicals with their flow-through system but in a safer way.
In the chemical industry, the reactor is the most important type of equipment. Most chemical reactions in chemical plants occur in large volume (up to 15 000 l) batch-type reactors. In those reactors, all the materials are loaded inside and the reaction proceeds with time. Another type of reactors is continuous reactors. In those, the chemicals continuously flow into the reactor and become a continuous stream of product. Existing continuous reactors (or flow reactors) are smaller than the batch reactors. However, they are still made for large-scale processes.
Chemical reactor the size of a coffee cup
Flowid develops flow reactors in the much smaller sizes than the other reactors available in the market. “The volume of our reactors is the size of a coffee cup,” says Wouter Stam, the founder and the managing director of Flowid. “You continuously run chemicals through this small tank. The smaller volume also means that your risks decrease in comparison to a batch-type reactor.” The potential risk of a chemical reaction is a thermal runaway. (Runaway means the situation when the temperature and pressure increase leading to a destructive result). “In the continuous reactors that we sell the volume of hazardous materials is small, so that you have closer control over your chemistry and much better safety conditions compared to conventional systems,” says Stam.
Small reactors in the big industry
Pharmaceuticals or speciality chemicals industry (the ones that are produced in low volumes only for a specific purpose) might benefit most from the small continuous reactors, says Wouter Stam. He adds that Flowid’s solutions are also versatile enough for any other industry that involves the use of chemical processes.“We build systems consisting of our reactors and other types of flow reactors. We design them for the work with non-standard or hazardous chemicals. In such cases, it makes sense to use a continuous reactor.”
The managing director of Flowid says that the key feature of the company’s reactors is that they give an option of controlling the mixing of chemicals independently of their flow. This is not possible in standard flow reactors. In them, better mixing requires pumping the reagents faster. “Our solution SpinPro allows us to work with multiphase chemistry. That means that you can put together solvent and water or solvent and water and gas in the reactor. With our solutions, you can also handle a precipitation reaction. (It is the type of reaction that creates an insoluble product after mixing two materials). So, this is what makes Flowid reactors unique. However, all the continuous reactors are innovation in comparison to the standard batch systems. One should bear in mind that mainstream systems are good for big volumes, though.”
Work with the customers
The plans of Flowid for the future is to further sell continuous solutions. “We do two types of work: we help our customers to go from the lab to the plant and then change from batch to flow. In order to achieve this, we do the tests on the customers’ facilities and also in our facilities. Then we build a system that enables moving the work from the lab to the plant. It can either consist fully of Flowid solutions, or it can include other types of continuous reactors. We don’t focus on merely selling our reactors. We look for the optimal solutions for the customers and engineer the system to meet their needs,” says the managing director of Flowid.