Smart reactors – Combining stimuli-responsive hydrogels and 3D printing
Reactor design and development are key disciplines in process engineering. In order to keep up with modern-day production demands, new reactor concepts have to be conceived, which transcend the mere purpose of a reaction vessel. With the availability of improved fabrication methods and insight into new materials, novel process integration measures and process-adapted setups can be developed to provide a new generation of reactors. The application of smart materials allows for response-triggered actuation, which can be used in setups for self-contained process control without external input. In combination with available 3D fabrication technologies, smart materials can be integrated and adapted to the reaction system demands, to develop smart reactor concepts. Herein, we demonstrate an exemplary application of a smart reactor module for an exothermic emulsion copolymerization of vinyl acetate (VAc) and Versa® 10, a vinyl neodecanoate. The flow manipulation of the reaction medium on a preparative scale is presented by using poly(N-iso-propylacrylamide) (pNIPAM) hydrogels as temperature-triggered actuators, which are able to distinguish the course of the reaction by separating the flow of reactant from product stream during continuous operation.
Integrated process control