Microreactors: a nanotech way to mix up chemicals

A lot of chemicals (in drugs, cosmetics, household chemicals, etc.) are made in batches – pour ingredients into a vat, precisely control the conditions inside the container (called a “reactor” in the industry) so that the correct final product comes out when it’s done cooking, clean the reactor, and then start again.

This involves large facilities (to deal with large reactors, which have to be several cubic meters in size in order to produce sufficient quantities of product), a waste of raw materials and a fair amount of labor costs.  The process is also rather inefficient (time- and labor-wise) compared to an assembly line because of the stop-and-go mechanics.

An entirely different kind of reactor’s been developed, however, that addresses these issues: a bundle of microscopic channels, through which the concoction flows – raw materials go in one end and finished chemicals come out the other.  This setup is supposed to significantly reduce the amount of time to produce an amount of product, reduce material wastage by 20%, and is much more compact than a normal reactor to boot.

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