New Catalytic Reactor Promises More Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing

The engineers behind the Spinning Mesh Disc Reactor have received funding to further develop their innovative catalytic reactor.

Bath University

A new catalytic reactor that will make chemical compounds faster, cheaper and more sustainable has been funded by Innovate UK.

The Spinning Disc Mesh Reactor (SMDR) developed by Bath University Chemical Engineers Dr. Emma Emanuelsson-Patterson and Dr. Parimala Shivaprasad, designed, creates chemicals and active ingredients – active pharmaceutical ingredients that are used to make all kinds of medicines – by reacting chemicals with enzymes on a spinning, cloth-covered platter, like a vinyl record.

The couple’s company, SMDR Ltd, has received funding from Innovate UK to commercialize the reactor and market it to pharmaceutical companies after its 12 years of development.

The SMDR creates chemicals by mimicking the action of a turntable: an enzyme that is applied to a woolen cloth disc is spun on a turntable where it reacts with a chemical substrate to create the desired compound or API.

The Emanuelsson research group has shown that the use of a cloth disk protects the enzymes from denaturation or shear, which makes them unusable and allows optimal contact between the enzyme catalyst and the substrate, which ensures rapid reactions. This means that the catalyst fabric disk can be used for much longer, which makes the process cheaper and more sustainable than conventional reactors.

Emanuelsson-Patterson says, “The basic principle of the SMDR is to use the centrifugal forces generated by rotation to produce a very consistent and repeatable response. Chemical engineers are striving to improve this type of ‘mass transfer’ because it produces faster reactions, and in our case more chemicals or APIs. “

Adds Shivaprasad, “One of the main advantages of the SMDR basically works a bit like a jukebox that can switch between records. By using the catalyst cloth disks, which are easy and quick to swap out, we can apply a range of different reagents or catalysts quickly, creating a wide range of chemicals or active ingredients. “

Emanuelsson-Patterson explained the need for greater efficiency, saying, “Reagents and enzymes are expensive and also very sensitive to handling, particularly with regard to shear (or tear) forces. Using the meshed pulley and using centrifugal forces means We have significantly reduced these risks and created more potential for safe reuse. This has advantages in terms of efficiency, costs and sustainability. “

The disc design also has the potential to improve the efficiency of chemical production – catalysts can be turned on and off quickly, creating flexibility and scope for volume production. One of the exciting challenges the team will investigate is how the SMDR can perform multiple different reactions using multiple catalysts at the same time.

Solving the current challenges in chemical manufacturing

Shivaprasad was part of the three month ICURe program to conduct the market analysis for the SMDR. The main objective was to identify the current challenges in chemical manufacturing and whether the SMDR has the potential to reduce these challenges in order to improve processing efficiency in the chemical industry.

“We have found that there is a market need among pharmaceutical middlemen – the companies that supply active ingredients, the ingredients that go into drugs or products – for faster, more sustainable manufacturing options,” she says.

The next steps for Emanuelsson-Patterson and Shivaprasad include optimizing a multi-disk scale-up reactor, the MD-SMDR, on a pilot scale and performing a cost analysis. They hope that its cost-effectiveness and flexibility will provide a way to produce active ingredients and chemicals locally, and reduce reliance on complex supply chains, which has been a problem in some countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

The MD-SMDR is based on a modular concept with a single shaft with numerous disks, each of which would be stackable. This creates flexibility in both the quantities and types of chemicals produced.

The project was funded by Innovate UK Sustainable Funding Round 2, part of UK Research and Innovation, for £ 68,500.

Dr. Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, said: “During these troubled times we have seen the best of UK business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency, it is a social and economic emergency.

SMDR Ltd, along with every initiative that Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in promoting sustainable economic development. Everyone also helps to realize the ambitions of hardworking people. “

– This press release was originally posted on the University of Bath website. It was edited for style

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