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An Overview of Flow Chemistry


Introduction to Flow Chemistry

Flow chemistry allows the chemical reactions required for production to occur as a continuously flowing stream. Flow reactors employ these flow chemistry principles to provide continuous manufacturing capabilities to the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

 

It is this feature that is the main differentiator between flow and batch chemical production, the other widely used method of chemical production. 

The flow chemistry reaction pathways used in flow reactors are typically tube-like in design and are manufactured from non-reactive materials. The mixing methods in flow reactors can include diffusion alone, passive (or static) mixing and, more recently, active mixing.

 

Flow reactors allow efficient control over important reaction parameters such as heat transfer (heating and cooling), mixing (and mass-transfer) as well as reaction time (residence time). Such a level of control brings with it better potential outcomes of reaction processes, including percentage yields, purities and selectivities, whilst providing low capital costs, small reactor footprints, efficient energy use, reduced solvent use, low emissions and improved safety management.

Advantages of Flow Chemistry
 

There are well-defined key advantages to using flow technologies as compared to standard batch chemistry methods:​

  • Improved heat transfer

  • Improved mass transfer/mixing

  • Reproducibility

  • Easier route to scale-up

  • Multistep (telescoping)

  • In-line downstream processing

  • Automation

  • Improved Safety (managing hazardous reagents and intermediates)

  • Smaller reactor footprint

  • Lower operational expenditure or running costs

  • Lower fugitive emissions

  • Lower solvent use and waste

Advantages of Batch Chemistry
 

  • Versatile; as a batch reactor can be easily adapted to handle many different processes and campaigns.

  • Productive; as large amounts of material can be produced with each batch.

  • Established; batch technology is well known within the chemical industry and a vast number of the process have been designed and used in batch.

However, batch processing proceeds much more slowly and as such the overall cost of processing increases by comparison with flow chemistry. Start-up and shut-down processes of batch equipment can increase energy consumption and waste material, and the quality discrepancy between batches can be significant. This can lead to lost production and compromised quality if the batch process isn’t monitored closely.

Overall, despite the many advantages and efficiencies of flow chemistry, batch processing remains the standard within the fine chemical and pharmaceutical industries, simply because versatility, productivity and established know-how are extremely desirable attributes that are an almost essential prerequisite when considering a route to chemical manufacture.

Flow technologies that embrace versatility and productivity will open up the possibility for their widespread use within the chemical industries, and this is the motivation and rationale for the design of our range of Coflore flow reactors from AM Technology.

Want to find out more about Flow Chemistry?

 

Delve deeper into how flow chemistry works by looking at plug flow reactors and continuous stirred tank reactors. 

Useful External Links

Flow Chemistry (organic-chemistry.org)

“One of today's most important tools for modernizing the pharmaceutical industry is a process known as continuous manufacturing”

Director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Janet Woodcock M.D.

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