WILTON, UK - The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is working with major specialty chemical manufacturer Croda Europe, NiTech Solutions and The University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing on a collaborative research and development project to develop a novel method for the continuous production of a range of market-leading surfactants. The two-year Innovate UK project will design, build and trial a modular unit based on NiTech’s patented continuous oscillating baffle reactor (COBR) technology.

The aim of the industry-led project is to deliver a new process for the manufacturing of existing products that significantly improves operational and capital costs, as well as process sustainability, without impacting product quality. Continuous processes are usually well suited to integrate with equivalent existing batch manufacturing assets to provide increased capacity. Their compact design will often enable this to be done without the need for additional supporting infrastructure and extended footprint.

The collaboration will establish technical and commercial viability of the NiTech technology in Croda’s proposed applications, thus reducing the risk of future investment into the technology by Croda. The consortium believes the targeted reduction in operational costs, combined with reduced capital requirements will position the UK as a global leader in the use of this technology. The University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing will provide expertise in analyzing the business model for the full-scale commercial adoption of these flexible manufacturing techniques. CPI will provide specialist capability and knowledge in the area of COBR technology.

The intrinsic advantages of the COBR, namely plug flow characteristics, minimum inventory processing, excellent heat and mass transfer and process control, will transfer manufacturing flexibility through easily variable production volumes to match demand and rapid product changeover and customization with minimal waste. Going forward, the key is to develop these techniques to the volumes and price points that facilitate mass-market adoption. This UK collaboration will bridge the gap by bringing together the innovation value chain and position the UK as a world leader in next-generation processes and business model innovations.

Speaking about the project James Birbeck, Lead Process Engineer at Croda Europe, commented, “We are excited about the potential enhancements that the technology being developed could give to our products, ensuring that we continue to be flexible in order to deliver high-quality products when our customers require them. The consortium partnership of ourselves with CPI, NiTech Solutions and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing combines exceptional expertise and knowledge to deliver a technically advanced solution for a more sustainable process of manufacturing our surfactants.”