Motivation and Background

In process engineering, local parameters such as temperature, pressure and concentration, among others, determine the course of the operation, exerting significant influence over the final product properties, yield and selectivity. In multiphase systems, the relationships between external parameters, local internal conditions and control variables are extremely complex, and are thus currently very difficult to quantitatively characterize. In conventional process engineering systems it is often impossible to precisely determine or exert control over local internal conditions.

Microreactors contain flow channels with cross sections on the sub-millimeter scale, enabling better control of processes via high heat and mass transfer rates. This permits detailed investigations under well-defined conditions, which can be customized to suppress undesired side reactions or to allow for new reaction pathways that are more environmental-friendly or use less expensive reagents. Microreactors permit adequate throughput for the synthesis of special chemicals and can be flexibly adapted to specific synthesis needs, therefore presenting a practical platform for both research and production purposes.

In combination with analytical techniques, microreactors can be incorporated into compact automated systems, which allow for the development of new insights into the relationships between process engineering control variables and local process conditions. Such knowledge can be used to accelerate the development of specific processes or to design advanced production systems. Sensing Capabilities are a prerequisite for this, with miniaturized sensors that are sensitive and selective for important chemical process quantities. These sensors must deliver stable continuous signals and be suited for integration in microchannels.

Both the sensors and microfluidic systems must withstand harsh chemical and thermical conditions, and thus the choice of materials and manufacturing process must be carefully be considered in the system design. This is an interdisciplinary research and development task, which demands expertise in micromachining, chemistry and process engineering.