Nanostructures that respond to stimuli offer safer chemical reactors

September 22, 2008: A consortium of UK universities is developing unique nanostructures that respond to stimuli, such as pH, heat, and light will pave the way for safer, greener and more efficient chemical reactors.

The work 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. The nanostructures, which can be dispersed in fluid, or coated on the reactor walls, can regulate reactions, momentum, and heat and mass transfer inside chemical reactors. As conditions inside the reactor change, the nanostructured particles 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.

Chemical factory. (Source: U. of Leeds)

Professor Yulong Ding at the U. of Leeds’ Institute of Particle Science and Engineering, calls the research program “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.”

The technique is being developed through a collaborative research program initiated by Ding and Alexei Lapkin of the U. of Bath, and Lee Cronin at the U. of Glasgow.

Professor Ding also believes that these systems also have the potential to eliminate the risk of runaway, where a chemical reaction goes out of control.


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