Dutch Firm Revs Up Spinning Disk Efforts

Company plans to take novel reactor technology to industrial scale.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

Flowid, a spin-off company of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has taken the next step forward in developing spinning disk reactor (SDR) technology by announcing plans to construct a small-scale production plant at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, Sittard-Geleen.

Technology will focus on developing and improving bio-based production processes.

The so-called Spin-in project will cost €1.7 million ($1.9 million) — with the South Netherlands Operational Program, with support from the European Regional Development Program, providing over €700,000. This initiative particularly focuses on developing and marketing new types of process technology.

In the plant, Flowid will apply patented spinning-disk technology — which the company says is safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly than conventional reactor technology — on an industrial scale, raising current capacity from 8 m3/d to 80 m3/d. The plant is slated to start operations in late 2015.

The Brightlands Chemelot Campus also will allow the company to work on safety and infrastructure development, while bringing it into contact with potential investors and customers keen to tap into a market that’s estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of Euros. The technology will focus particularly on the development and improvement of bio-based production processes. Here, Flowid will work closely with the newly established Chemelot InSciTe (Institute for Science and Technology) center that targets the development, production, testing and perfecting of building blocks for bio-based materials.

The reactor itself is a stationary vessel inside of which a motor drives three DVD-sized disks at high velocity inside a narrow casing. Two reactants are fed into the top of the device and flow around the rotary disks. The disks generate large shear forces — providing very efficient mixing of reactants that results in high mass-transfer rates and reactions that take place in seconds.

Cooling channels integrated on the inside of the casing remove the large amounts of heat the reactions release. The combination of high mass-transfer rates and temperature control allows the reactions to proceed under process-intensified conditions, producing what Flowid describes as an efficient, safe and flexible solution (a video of the technology can be seen here: http://goo.gl/T4lnN5).

The company says SDR technology stands out from common technologies due to a combination of smaller reactor size, reduced use of energy and raw materials, minimal or no waste production, and lower operational and investment costs. The smaller dimensions and the intrinsic safety of the system suit it for small-scale production; this Flowid describes as a high-value feature, because it’s preferable to process bio-based raw materials locally at their source.

This latest step in spinning disk development at TU/e comes eight years after the original idea occurred to Professor John Van der Schaaf. Based on his observations of an earlier research project, Van der Schaaf thought combining the rotating disc with a nearby wall would create high shear stress and rapid turbulence, leading to high efficiency. He asked a doctoral candidate to investigate (see “Spinning Disk Reactor Reveals Potential). Since then, Tu/e has carried out a number of R&D projects to further understand and develop SDR technology’s process potential.

Meanwhile, the Center for Process Innovation (CPI), Wilton, U.K., has also been developing an SDR reactor for use with highly volatile reactions.

Where a reaction is highly exothermic and occurs in seconds, quenching is rapid, reducing side reactions and byproduct formation, says the CPI. The low inventory of the system allows aggressive reactions to be handled safely. The CPI’s continuous system can manufacture 10 kg/h of product. The SDR has successfully handled specialist nitration and sulfonation reactions.

However, the CPI notes that the Corning Advanced Flow Reactor and most continuous oscillatory baffle reactors (COBR) systems offer greater throughput than an SDR of comparable size. The appeal of COBRs includes simplicity of design and use, and low shear mixing, which produces particles of consistent size and morphology. Also, the low inventory and reduced footprint of the system enable more precise control of process conditions.

Nevertheless, the CPI believes that for specialist reactions requiring safe handling of substrates the SDR remains an attractive option.


Ottewell2Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net

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