Core competence "chemical processes"

The core competence “chemical processes” comprises the ability to design and implement innovative, resourcesaving chemical and technical processes from the laboratory through to the technical scale. It covers the entire process chain from raw material processing, chemical reaction control, purification and separation technologies through to subsequent process steps such as product refinement (e.g. crystallization) and shaping.

Finding the right chemistry – sustainability and efficiency

Chemical processes are essential for a wide range of industrial value chains, and ensure new product developments and innovations. However, in the light of global challenges in the field of climate protection, energy and resource efficiency, chemical processes must increasingly become independent of fossil raw materials and fuels, and be integrated into concepts for circular economies and greenhouse-gas-neutral material and energy conversion. Fraunhofer ICT‘s R & D tasks aim to meet these demands. A considerable part of our work is exclusive, commissioned by industrial customers. Central target parameters in the development, design and optimization of chemical processes therefore include not only product quality, safety and economic efficiency, but also sustainability. At Fraunhofer ICT, we meet these requirements by developing modern synthesis and process technologies that include energy-efficient and resource-saving process management, minimized waste streams, the recycling of material flows or the use of renewable raw material sources from the outset.

In our development work, we often complete a paradigm shift from discontinuous to continuous processing techniques. For example, continuous processing involving micro-structured equipment is a key element in process design and intensification. It enables safe processing in new processing windows (for example high temperatures, high pressures, high concentrations, short reaction times) that are difficult or even impossible to achieve using classical methods, and in which chemical reaction processes can be optimized from a technical and economic perspective. These are often synthesis steps used in the production of precursors or products in the field of fine and specialty chemistry.

In addition, we are systematically extending continuous processes to further process steps and new application fields. These include in particular the intensification of downstream processing (extractive purification under different pressure regimes, reactive separation, emulsion splitting), the size-controlled production of nanoparticles and microcapsules, the development of environmentally-friendly catalytic processes and electrochemical syntheses, and the intensification of multiphase reaction processes (gaseous/liquid, liquid/liquid).

An important tool in process design is cutting-edge process analysis techniques, some of which have been developed in-house. We are making significant progress in the development and adaptation of fast spectroscopic and calorimetric process analysis, which can be used to monitor the dynamics of chemical processes with a high temporal and spatial resolution. Recent examples include reaction calorimetric tracking of continuous processes along the flow direction or fast infrared spectroscopic tracking of syntheses in IR-absorbing solvents using quantum cascade lasers. The techniques often yield kinetic, mechanistic and safety-related data for optimized process design. The rapid availability of comprehensive process analytical data not only enables process development times to be drastically shortened, but also allows the increasing application of these data in the digitalization of chemical reaction processes.

Continuous monitoring of the process components
© Fraunhofer ICT
Continuous monitoring of the process components

Safe process control

Our comprehensive know-how in the field of explosive technology means that we also have advanced competences in the safety-related design and operation of hazardous (explosive or toxic) processes. In the development of high-pressure processes we also benefit from our long-standing experience in the processing of supercritical fluids. In terms of process safety and stability, tailored process monitoring and control is a core element of our development work. Our capacity to scale up synthesis and increase throughput in multipurpose, mini plant and pilot units developed in-house means that we can prepare larger quantities of substances for testing, and examine safety and economic aspects using realistic operating parameters and scales.

Biogenic raw materials

For several years now, Fraunhofer ICT has been using renewable raw materials in process engineering. Our biorefinery processes have been specifically developed and extended from a bioeconomic perspective, to overcome obstacles in their industrial adaptation through targeted component developments, for example continuous flow reactor systems. These processes include the feed materials wood, fats and oils, carbohydrates and other biomass materials which do not compete with food production. The catalytically supported activation of CO2 (from the air) to generate short-chain alcohols within ongoing PTL (power-to-liquid) processes is one recent development in the field of continuous process control.

We also investigate the industrial use of such lignins, especially those which are a waste product of the paper industry. Industrial applications are emerging, for example in the field of adhesives and the substitution of bitumen in road construction, which show high economic potential. Some biopolymers are hard to degrade, so recycling processes are attracting increasing attention in this field. They enable biopolymers to be reused within closed material loops. To this end, Fraunhofer ICT has developed processes for the mechanical and chemical recycling of PLA (polylactic acid) plastics. All process developments are evaluated in economic terms, in particular downstream processes to purify the end products. Life-cycle analyses (LCA) are carried out, which take account of both cost effectiveness and resource consumption.


Microscopic image of a CFRP fiber for process evaluation
© Fraunhofer ICT
Microscopic image of a CFRP fiber for process evaluation
Adaptation of a pushbroom imager to a microstructured reactor
© Fraunhofer ICT
Adaptation of a pushbroom imager to a microstructured reactor
Lichtleiterbasierte Multiplex-Infrarotspektroskopie an einem kontinuierlichen Syntheseprozess
© Fraunhofer ICT
Lichtleiterbasierte Multiplex-Infrarotspektroskopie an einem kontinuierlichen Syntheseprozess

Facilities and equipment

  • Various synthesis techniques for chemical and mechanical processing
  • Pilot plant for synthesis upscaling into the 50 kg or 50 l range
  • Safety boxes for the remote control of reactions in hazardous processes
  • Flow chemistry test stands and synthesis units
  • Facilities for parallel screening of synthesis approaches (also under high pressure)
  • Numerous reaction calorimeters (batch and continuous)
  • Cutting-edge process spectrometers for inline, online or atline process monitoring (UV/Vis, NIR, IR, Raman) in one or multiple dimensions
  • Continuous and discontinuous high-pressure plants for hydrothermolysis, oxidation, hydrogenation, and reactions in subcritical and supercritical water
  • High-pressure extraction units using supercritical carbon dioxide
  • Pilot plants for crystallization from solutions via supercritical fluids
  • Systems to determine solubility and phase equilibria at high pressures
  • Various distillation units for the thermal separation of highboiling/sensitive material mixtures (down-flow evaporator, high-temperature vacuum rectification)
  • Units for liquid/liquid and solid/liquid extraction
  • Mobile equipment for reverse osmosis, nano- and ultra-filtration
  • Equipment for solution and melt polymerization
  • Coating processes
  • Spray and melt crystallization processes
  • Comminution technology
  • Particle size and crystal structure analyses
  • Extensively equipped chemical, spectroscopic, thermal and mechanical analysis laboratories
  • Units for surface analysis, volumetric and gravimetric sorption measurements
  • Computer tomography