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.