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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/L022397/1
Title: Laser-induced nucleation for crystallisation of high-value materials in continuous manufacturing processes
Principal Investigator: Alexander, Dr A
Other Investigators:
Pulham, Professor C
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 03 March 2014 Ends: 02 October 2015 Value (£): 145,278
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Light-Matter Interactions Manufacturing Machine & Plant
Particle Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Nov 2013 Manufacturing with Light Interviews : 13 & 14 November 2013 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Batch processing in tanks is the favoured method in industry for manufacture of high-value solid chemicals, such as agrochemicals, dyes and pharmaceuticals. There are a number of disadvantages to batch processing: large amounts of material are committed to each stage; failure can cause loss of the entire batch; there can be large variations in batch repeatability; and it is difficult to scale-up to larger volumes due to limitations on heat flow. Continuous flow manufacture in pipelines offers significant improvements over batch processing: continual processing of small volumes reduces risks in process failures; it is greener technology because it produces less waste; throughput can be increased; capital and running costs are lower; higher surface areas make it easier to heat and cool processes. A grand challenge in implementing continuous flow manufacture is handling of solids, in particular nucleation of fine crystals. Properties of the solid, such as size, shape and internal structure of crystals have enormous effects on their suitability, e.g., as drugs, pesticides, fertilizers. These properties can be difficult to control. Mixing and shear changes the fluid's readiness to grow crystals.

Our research programme aims to improve on current methods for crystallisation in continuous flow by using short, intense pulses of laser light to induce nucleation at specific points and times in the tubes of a continuous flow reactor. So far our laser-induced crystallisation method has been studied in the laboratory using only static sample vials and droplets. We therefore need to study our technique under mixing and flow conditions. Our objective is to demonstrate that our method can grow crystals at different locations where the fluid conditions favour certain crystal shapes, sizes and structures. Such techniques are not already available to industry. Even fractional improvements through this method could yield substantial improvements in the quality of solids, and could encourage industry to switch to continuous flow for more processes. Of course we do not claim that this will be a magic bullet to solve all challenges for continuous manufacture of high-value solids. However, we believe that the technique could stand to make significant savings and improvements in some processes, e.g., in the pharmaceutical industry.

To make our programme relevant to the needs of industry, our project will embark on collaboration with a recently formed consortium for Continuous Manufacture and Crystallisation (CMAC). This group have secured significant investment through government (EPSRC), seven universities, three top-tier global-scale manufacturers (GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Novartis), and another 28 industrial partners. CMAC aims to accelerate the adoption of continuous manufacturing processes, systems and plants for the production of pharmaceuticals and fine-chemicals to higher levels of quality, with lower costs, more quickly, and in a more sustainable manner. Our collaboration will ensure that industry leaders have fast and direct access to the outcomes of our research programme.

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