UK scientists are developing nanostructures to regulate reactions, momentum, and heat and mass transfer inside chemical reactors.
The technology can act as a shift in reactor technology for the chemical, pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.
"This research programme is an important step towards producing the next generation of smart "small footprint", greener reactors. The responsive reaction systems we are investigating could make the measurement systems currently used in reactors redundant," explained Professor Yulong Ding of the Institute of Particle Science and Engineering at the University of Leeds.
The collaborative study involves designing and producing molecular metal oxides and polymers as building blocks, and engineering those blocks to form nanoscale structures, which are responsive to internal and / or external stimuli such as pH, heat or light.
The structures can be dispersed in fluid, or coated on the reactor walls.
With the changing conditions inside the reactor, the nanostructured particles will also respond by changing their size, shape, or structure.
These changes could in turn alter transport properties such as thermal conductivity and viscosity, and catalyst activity - and hence regulate the reactions.
Ding believes that these systems also have the potential to eliminate the risk of 'runaway', where a chemical reaction goes out of control.