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CSIRO opens flow chemistry facility

20:00 EDT 28 Oct 2019 | Australian Life Scientist

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has officially opened its FloWorks Centre for Industrial Flow Chemistry, located in the heart of the Australian Manufacturing and Materials Precinct in Clayton, Victoria. The facility seeks to provide cutting-edge research into flow chemistry capability, making it more accessible to the chemical manufacturing industry and solving challenges associated with developing Australia’s future industries and jobs.

Flow chemistry is a form of chemical manufacturing that is said to be cleaner, smarter and more efficient. The benefits of using the flow process include reduced reaction times and plant space, which equate to less energy cost, more efficient processes, reduced waste and a safer environment. The smaller set-up used in flow chemistry also reduces barriers to entry for small and medium businesses in what would otherwise be capital-intensive industries.

Dr Christian Hornung, a senior research scientist with CSIRO and Director of the new centre, explained that FloWorks develops scalable and safe chemical processes using an emerging technology called continuous flow chemistry, whereby the starting materials are fed into the reactor continuously, and this is where the reaction takes place.

“If you use multistage processing, you can eliminate the need for manual handling of chemicals in between steps, and that greatly improves safety,” he said. “Adding in inline purification makes the whole process more streamlined and efficient, and when you integrate smart monitoring and online analysis the whole process can be automated.”

Catalytic static mixers could hold the key for a technological breakthrough in hydrogen energy. Image ©Nick Pitsas.

Dr Hornung described FloWorks as “a collaborative space at the cutting edge of modern chemistry, where we can work with Australian businesses to improve their processes, cut costs and reduce waste”.

He said, “Our world-class researchers at FloWorks can work with partners to update their current chemical processes, including from laboratory discovery to continuous flow production scale; from inefficient batch procedures to continuous processes; and offer in-house training for industrial collaborators on our state-of-the-art flow chemistry equipment.”

FloWorks is now open to businesses of all sizes interested in working with CSIRO’s world-class experts to create value using flow chemistry. One such business is Boron Molecular, which was created more than 20 years ago to commercialise CSIRO science and now uses flow chemistry at its Melbourne plant to manufacture fine chemicals for Australian and international clients.

“CSIRO helped us integrate flow chemistry into our operations,” said Dr Oliver Hutt, Director of Business Development at Boron Molecular. “We use our unit to develop a number of processes or convert them from batch to flow.

“Examples of the types of technologies we’ve commercialised using flow chemistry include poly-aniline (PANI), a high-performance electroactive polymer used in coating applications, and a suite of metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) — next-generation high-surface area, porous materials used for applications like gas storage and water treatment.”

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, added that FloWorks has the capabilities to support emerging renewable hydrogen technology development, which will play an important part in the move to a decarbonised economy.

“Maximising the efficiency in both production and use of hydrogen is crucially important,” Dr Finkel said. “Improvements depend largely on the efficiency of the catalysis. Flow chemistry could be used to improve efficiency, and FloWorks has developed its own catalysis processes in pursuit of this goal.”

For more information and to get involved with FloWorks, visit https://research.csiro.au/floworks/.

Top image: Flow chemistry uses far fewer solvents and energy, and discards far less waste material into the environment, than traditional batch chemistry. Image ©Nick Pitsas.

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