The inquiry seemed relatively simple: “We’re looking for a glass or metal polymerization reactor; plus a frame, agitator, gas regulator and probably a thermostat. We want to use tit for research into the synthesis of polyolefins.” No problem for Autoclave; after all, 95% of its deliveries are customer-specific solutions. However, when the fume cupboard dimensions turned out to be very different from the original spec, it became quite a challenge. In the end, it was a collaboration between Autoclave, two departments of Büchi, and thermostat supplier Huber that came up with the ideal solution.
Within the University of Maastricht, Dario Romano and his colleagues conduct research into the synthesis of polyolefins. As part of their investigations, they test existing and new catalytic systems for the synthesis of both olefin and bio-based polymers. The materials produced by these processes vary from basic plastics (feedstocks) to polymers for high-end engineering applications; for example for armoured vehicles or biomedical particles.
Process testing takes place in a reactor that must enable close monitoring of the behaviour of the polymerization reaction, at both large and small scale, and across a wide range of synthesis conditions.
The reactor vessels can be quickly swapped in and out of the system, which can test process volumes ranging from 0.5 to 10 litres. The operating temperature varies from -40 to +250°C, while the pressure range runs from total vacuum to +50 bar. The gas dosing unit precisely regulates the ethylene and propylene used during polymerization reactions. Reactions typically take place at about 50°C and 5-10 bar.
The system was developed by Autoclave in close cooperation with several other parties. For example, the thermostat supplier offered support in minimizing the dimensions of the system. This proved to be necessary due to the variance between the original fume cupboard design and what was ultimately delivered.
At the same time, specialists in the Autoclave and Glass divisions at Büchi combined their efforts to ensure that this special test system would be ergonomically friendly, safe, and efficient.
The intensive collaboration has resulted in the development of an entirely customer-specific solution, comprising two systems built around a Pilotclave type 3 reactor. This is combined with a sensor for the volumetric measurement of gas consumption, plus software and thermostat.
The construction enables the user to swap reactor vessels with minimum effort, by integrating the agitator drive into the vessel lid, and permanently mounting the entire assembly in the system. The assembly can be left undisturbed when exchanging reactor vessels, thus avoiding the need to disconnect any wiring or lines. To enable the reactor vessels to be quickly, cleanly and safely disconnected from the thermostat, the hoses and double wall connections are all fitted with a Huber quick coupling.