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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X025292/1
Title: Prosperity Partnership in Innovative Continuous Manufacturing for Industrial Chemicals (IConIC)
Principal Investigator: Hii, Professor KK(
Other Investigators:
Hellgardt, Professor K Misener, Professor R Tsay, Dr C
Miller, Dr P del Rio Chanona, Dr E Tighe, Dr CJ
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Almac Group Ltd BASF Centre for Process Innovation CPI (UK)
Mettler-Toledo AutoChem, Inc. Siemens Process Systems Engineering Ltd Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd.
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 July 2023 Ends: 30 June 2028 Value (£): 6,864,992
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Chemical Synthetic Methodology Design of Process systems
Manufacturing Machine & Plant Physical Organic Chemistry
Reactor Engineering Safety & Reliability of Plant
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Chemicals
Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
15 Nov 2022 Prosperity Partnership Round 5 Full Proposal Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Currently, most of the manufacturing the high-value chemicals such as agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, are performed in 'batch' reactors, where the chemical feedstocks (largely petrochemicals based) are converted into the product through a sequence of 'units of operations', which includes several chemical transformations, and purification steps. As the volume of each reactor is fixed, some of these operations, if not the entire sequence, have to be repeated, in order to meet the market demand. Very often, batch-to-batch variation in quality can result, which has to be monitored closely at each stage of the process in order to meet stringent regulatory requirements for product purity.

Conversely, in a continuous flow process, the individual units of operation are integrated to enable an uninterrupted flow of material and product. Inline analytics (sensors and detectors) can also be implemented to monitor the quality of the produced product in real-time. As the entire process operates non-stop ('steady state'), the volume of production is no longer limited by the reactor size. Potentially, a continuous process is more efficient in saving costs, energy, and time, without comprising product quality.

Traditionally, high-value chemical products, such as agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, are produced using batch reactors, as they are usually required in small volumes. In more recent years, there are significant economical and sustainability drivers for the chemical industry to adopt the use of continuous flow processes. However, their implementation is not easy; as continuous reactors tend to be less flexible, in terms of modifying them to produce different products. The ambition of the IConIC Partnership is to redesign the continuous process: from a fully-integrated, single-purpose unit, towards a flexible 'plug-and-play' system, where each unit of operation ('module') can be replaced or substituted easily without affecting the overall performance of the continuous process. This will require a better understanding of how the interplay between molecular properties, timescales of reactions (reaction kinetics), and process parameters. For industrial implementation, additional factors (e.g. costs, sustainability and regulatory requirements) also need to be taken into consideration to justify the capital investment needed to switch from batch to flow production.

Over the past 5 years, BASF has been working with ICL to foster an active 'Flow Chemistry' community involving 50 researchers at both institutions. The IConIC partnership will not cement the relationship by initiating a programme of exciting and ambition research projects to translate the benefits of Flow Chemistry from the R&D lab into industrial practice. An important aspect is an emphasis on a seamless data flow and translation process across the WPs, including decision-making under uncertainty, multi-fidelity design of experiments, transfer learning, and proof-of-concept demonstration for scale-up.

A key feature of IConIC is the inclusion of a number of other UK-based industrial partners to form a 'vertical consortium' along the value chain. Over the period of the grant, the Partnership will be expanded to include additional academic and industrial partners at the appropriate junctures, to leverage synergistic values. Ultimately this will enable the UK to take leadership in continuous flow manufacturing.

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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk