Microreactors (General)

 

What are Microreactors?

When most people think of reactors, they think of the large vessels used in chemical and refinery plants. These industrial reactors are well known for their large size, some are even as large as 500 ft3. However, chemical engineers are finding that a new, smaller type of reactor can be useful in areas the traditional reactors cannot. These reactors are called microreactors.

Microreactors are constructed from a network of miniaturized reaction channels. Unlike the large traditional reactors, microreactors house chemical reactions to the scale of 5 – 100 ml, and are only a few centimeters in size

Why are Microreactors Useful?

Even though microreactors are small, units can tolerate temperatures and pressures as high as 650 C and 25 bars. This allows microreactors to carry out, on a small scale, reactions that are too exothermic or explosive to run at large scale.

Likewise, certain hazardous material can be safely handled in only very small quantities and can not be used in large-scale processes. A microreactor would be an ideal reaction vessel for this case.

In addition, microreactors require minimal amounts of reagents and sample to perform tests, since the overall volume in the reactor is low. The small volumes can also result in getting test results faster. These advantages, among others, explain why many different research groups are using microreactors to miniaturize medical diagnostic assays. In fact, the first commercially available microreactors, produced by a joint collaboration of Caliper Technologies and HP http://www.calipertech.com/tech/index.htm , are designed to be used for medical tests.

What are the Disadvantages of Microreactors?

Unfortunately, since microreactors are so small, it is difficult to find practical industrial applications for them. Currently, researches are studying how to scale-up microreactions.

Also, the Surface area to Volume ratio is higher in microreactors than in normal reactors. This attribute brings about large wall effects in microreactors. The chemicals in solution adsorb on the channel walls thereby resulting in a loss of chemical concentration.


Want to find out more? Click on the Expert Microreactor page.

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