Core competence »chemical processes«

The core competence “chemical processes” comprises the ability to design and implement innovative, resource-saving chemical and technical processes from the laboratory through to the technical scale.

It covers the entire process chain from raw material processing, chemical synthesis, purification and separation technologies through to subsequent process steps such as product refinement (e.g. crystallization and particle technology) and shaping (e.g. formulation and compounding).

Photochemical synthesis in a continuously operated microreactor
© W. Mayrhofer
Photochemical synthesis in a continuously operated microreactor

Target parameters of chemical process design and process optimization include product quality, safety, cost-effectiveness and sustainability. Where the processes of fine and specialty chemistry are concerned, high selectivities and yields must be achieved, and tailored properties obtained in the target product.

In the search for a cost-effective process, energy-efficient and resource-saving technologies are key topics of research. However, sustainability also requires the minimization of waste streams, the reuse of material fractions and the application of renewable raw material sources.

New spray drying process for particle shaping
© Fraunhofer ICT | Mona Rothweiler
New spray drying process for particle shaping
Polylactic acid pellet: starting material for the production of lactate esters
© Fraunhofer ICT | Mona Rothweiler
Polylactic acid pellet: starting material for the production of lactate esters
Adaptation of a pushbroom imager to a microstructured reactor
© Fraunhofer ICT
Adaptation of a pushbroom imager to a microstructured reactor

At Fraunhofer ICT we meet all these requirements through the development of modern process technologies. A considerable part of our work is exclusive, commissioned by industrial customers. A successful approach often involves a paradigm shift from discontinuous to continuous processing. 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 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 unit operations and new application fields. These include in particular the intensification of downstream processing (extractive purification under different pressure regimes, reactive separation, emulsion splitting), the sizecontrolled production of nanoparticles and microcapsules, the development of environmentally-friendly catalytic processes (also phase transfer catalysis) 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. The techniques often yield kinetic, mechanistic and safetyrelated 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.

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.

Renewable 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. This includes in particular continuous reactor systems along the process chain up to the finished product. These processes utilize 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 (powerto- liquid) processes is one recent development in the field of continuous process control.

We also investigate the industrial use of lignins, especially those which are a waste product of the paper industry. Industrial applications are already emerging 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.

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 the parallel screening of synthesis routes (including high-pressure processes)
  • 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 high-boiling/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 ultrafiltration
  • 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