In 2010, the total amount of plastic materials produced worldwide reached 258 million tons. This extremely high amount of polymers requires efficient, large scale production. Polymerization reactions are exothermic reactions that require sufficient control. The reaction occurs with a fast rate and has the danger of thermal run-away. Scaling-up such an exothermic batch-reaction will decrease the efficiency of heat transfer and thus increase the probability of thermal run-away. Also, the size of the batch reactors is also limited.
Flow reactors, especially tube reactors have a large surface area to volume ratio, which greatly improves the efficiency of heat removal. Flow reactors usually require a lower volume when compared to the same batch productivity. The danger of a thermal run-away or a more serious explosion is reduced. Polymerization under pressure can be easily carried out in a flow reactor. Oxygen-sensitive reactions can be implemented since the reaction mixture is closed from the air.
Polyolefin and free radical polimerization has been widely studied in tube reactors. Recently, ATRP (Atom-Transfer Radical Polymerization) and CRP (Controlled Radical Polymerization) reactions were also successfully implemented in experimental tube reactors. The initiation of the polymerization reaction can be very effectively controlled in flow conditions by micromixing. The precise control of polymerization temperature and micromixing together influences the molecular weight distribution positively. ThalesNano’s IceCube™ reactor offers an effective solution for exothermic reactions. Users can control the temperature from -70 to +80 °C.