The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization.
Fraunhofer carries out applied research that drives economic developments and serves the wider benefit of society, working for and with an international network of partners and customers.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT) is one of 60 institutes that currently make up the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The Fraunhofer ICT currently employs more than 500 staff members working in four main business areas, namely:
chemistry and process engineering;
defense, safety and security, air and space travel;
energy and environment; and
automotive and transport technology.
Over a total area of 200,000 m2, the Fraunhofer ICT has 12,000 m2 of pilot plants, test stands and technical workshops, and a further 13,000 m2 of laboratories, infrastructure and office space.
Beside contract research for industry, the Fraunhofer ICT also works together with commercial companies on research projects co-financed by the German government or the European Union.
The Institute was founded in 1959 as the Fraunhofer Institute for Propellant Chemistry and carried out research projects mainly for the German Ministry of Defense. In 1988, after opening the Institute to civil applied research and the development of new research areas, it was renamed the Fraunhofer ICT.
Through research on topics such as modern chemical engineering, the use of biomass, polymer technology, light-weight construction, battery and fuel cell technology, the Fraunhofer ICT has become a strong partner of the chemical and automotive industries and medium-sized companies.
Moreover, the Fraunhofer ICT is still the only explosives institute in Germany to offer a full spectrum of research, from laboratory testing through technical processing to fully developed systems. It has many years of experience in the core competence of energetic materials, for example solid rocket propellants or high explosives, and has been a German Defense Ministry research partner for over 50 years. Important civil applications for energetic products include gas generators and airbag technology as well as rocket engines for space travel.
3 (Micro)chemical engineering
Chemical engineering and chemical synthesis are core competences of the Fraunhofer ICT.
It seeks out and develops economically and ecologically attractive synthesis routes for customers. High yields and selectivities are important here, but other factors such as reducing the number of reaction steps, minimizing hazard potential and improving resource and energy efficiency (“green chemistry” and “green engineering”) are equally important goals.
Flow chemistry and microreaction technology have become key tools for optimizing and intensifying chemical processes. Fraunhofer ICT has been developing microreaction processes for 15 years for both process optimization and production. It targets the benefits of microeffects and simultaneously tests alternative synthesis routes. This can involve, among other things, the replacement of stoichiometric reaction steps with catalytic processes, employing advanced solvents such as ionic liquids or supercritical fluids, or changing from single-phase processes to multiphase operations.
Flow chemistry is also promising for working in reaction regimes that are not accessible using classical batch processes, e.g., at high temperatures, pressures and concentrations of reagents or even under alternative stoichiometric reaction conditions. Moreover, we link the advantages of catalyst immobilization with those of flow chemistry, especially in regard to more intensified mass and heat transfer. Significant improvements in catalyst performance and space–time yield can be achieved for many catalytic liquid-phase processes.
Microreaction technology must be integrated into high-performance laboratory equipment in order to be able to use its advantages effectively in the research and development laboratory. For this purpose we have developed various modular laboratory systems that allow fast reaction and parameter screenings. Using these laboratory systems, almost any microfluidic process for liquid, liquid/liquid and gas/liquid reactions can quickly be set up, and the configuration can easily be adjusted. A wide selection of microstructured reactors, mostly made of glass, is available for these tasks. One important element in the development of flow chemistry processes is the design of tailored microfluidic components. Both mathematical methods and numerical simulation tools (e.g., computational fluid dynamics) are applied here. However, the design of tailor-made microreactors also requires flexible microstructuring techniques, allowing the fast development and testing of microfluidic prototypes and their rapid re-designing. Fraunhofer ICT applies laser structuring techniques based on ultrashort pulse laser ablation for this purpose.
The process control units of our continuous laboratory systems fully automate the processing and data logging of individually designed experimental plans. This permits systematic parameter screenings and the generation of sample libraries for subsequent investigations. Moreover, our laboratory systems have additional ports for online and offline analysis, integrated safety features, and optional remote control and surveillance systems for reactions with an increased hazard potential.
The processes are transparent at Fraunhofer ICT as spectroscopic and calorimetric process analytical techniques are used that have deliberately been developed for flow chemistry processes. They give a direct insight into the processes as they are taking place so that information about the product composition and kinetic data, which are extremely valuable when designing process setups and selecting suitable process conditions, can be collected. In combination with screening procedures, statistically planned experiments and chemometric analysis, it is possible to identify suitable process windows and optimum process conditions with a high degree of efficiency.
Finally, in pilot plants the insights gained into process optimizations are transferred to production tasks, realizing customer-specific processes with high throughput using tailored microreactors. For example, special multipurpose plants have recently been developed at technical scale, which permit both the continuous synthesis of liquid, explosive materials and their subsequent, continuous processing in relevant production quantities. At the heart of these plants are microreactors, which have been specially developed for high-throughput applications for both synthesis and downstream processing (i.e., extraction and purification). These plants have a wide range of safety features and every aspect is controlled and monitored remotely. The multipurpose microreactor plants are used for the production of a variety of explosive substances. Typical throughputs are in the range of several hundred grams per minute. Compared to classical production processes, the plants offer increased process safety with sometimes dramatic reductions in processing time, improvements in product purity and stability (including pharmaceutical standards) as well as significant savings in operational expenditures.
Today, customers and project partners from the chemical, pharmaceutical and process technology industries can access a wide range of products, processes and services in the areas of flow chemistry and microreaction technology, extending from analysis, design and optimization of chemical processes to the synthesis of specialty and fine chemicals, and the development of tailored microreaction systems for use in laboratories and production plants.
Dr. Stefan Loebbecke
Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology
76327 Pfinztal, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)721/4640–230 or –0