Focus Area Definition
Synthetic chemistry is still driven to fit available kit and new chemical processes are largely designed and executed without taking into consideration the best reactor configuration or importantly scalability for pilot or market scale production. Flow reactors are used very little at the moment. A number of other lab scale reactor designs have been proposed but their use is also very limited. Furthermore, configurations in current research efforts are largely ad hoc and focused on specific conditions of for example temperature and pressure and therefore do not easily permit wider access to the chemical space for exploration, optimal route selection and reaction optimisation, without redesign and assembly. Additional kit is also required for monitoring, probing, measuring, data collection etc. that must be integrated into the reactor, which is typically of high cost and requires additional effort for integration and calibration. Finally, replication of reported reactions across laboratories is not easy as it requires considerable effort and trial and error.
This focus area is seeking to advance and redefine technology that is used in chemical synthesis. In particular, the aim is to define the near-, medium- and long-term prospects and impact of new innovative and integrated technology.
During consultation there was a consensus by both industry and the academic research community on the future requirements for next generation reaction platforms.
It has been recognised that today a chemist spends a disproportionate amount of time on less value adding activities such as handling, preparation and data collection and not on value adding activities such as the actual reaction and the subsequent analysis and interpretation of results. A key requirement therefore for the next generation platforms is to automate non value adding activities to the greatest extent possible. Furthermore, several other challenges were identified and are summarised in the figure which should be addressed in the short to medium term. In the figure the specific challenges for flow and batch type synthesis are distinguished, while those that are common to both are highlighted.
Challenges and Goals
The major challenges were defined as (click to read more about the individual challenge):
- Reactor platforms
- Intelligent feedback control
- Microfluidics, Lab-on-a-chip
- Networks of reactors
The challenges, current state-of-the-art, goals and pathways to achieving these goals are summarised in the roadmap below.
Significance to end users
- Equipping academic laboratories to be much more efficient at research leading to shorter time to innovation and time to market.
- Enhance the already strong U.K. industry in producing the types of equipment and software outlined above.
Next Generation Laboratory Platforms should allow:
- More repeatable reactions – less time wasted.
- Scalable reactions – from laboratory directly to production.
- Less or lower environmental impact.
- Improved safety – hazardous reactions made safer.
- Generate more high value chemical entities.
- Reduced overall manufacturing costs.
- Possibility of mix and match – plug and play reactors may reduce laboratory downtime and manufacturing costs particularly on a hour/square foot basis.
- Smaller laboratory foot prints which affords reduced capital costs.
Which disciplines might be needed – Opportunity for new research communities
The focus area will require involvement of scientists from many areas such as:
- Strong Chemical engineer and synthetic chemist collaboration needed.
- Promote bio-transformations for chemical synthesis and generate high value chemicals via biotransformations requires better biology – chemist – chemical engineering interactions.
- Engage electronics engineers as well as control engineers for developing approaches for monitoring reactions and for the development of control models and algorithms of the NGRP.