CPI to support the development of microwave technology to improve the manufacture of industrial polymers

30 Apr 2021

CPI, an independent technology innovation centre and founding member of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, has announced a new project, Advanced Manufacturing of Polymers (AdMaP), that is developing microwave technology to heat reactors during the production of industrial polymers. This technology has the potential to significantly reduce batch processing times with less energy consumed, and produce a more homogenous, higher-quality product.

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Industrial polymers – widely used in composite materials, performance coatings, and packaging – are traditionally manufactured in a reactor surrounded by a heating jacket filled with oil or steam. Heating the reaction in this way is characterised by long heating and cooling cycles, requires extensive energy use, and can lead to discolouration of the products, as even with stirring the material at the walls of the vessel can easily overheat. Consequently, products manufactured in this manner may be outside specification, requiring costly downstream processing before they can be sold.

The AdMaP project brings together academic and industry stakeholders from across the polymer supply chain – including end-users – to develop an innovative means of heating reactor vessels with microwave energy. Exploiting the unique interaction of microwaves directly with the reaction mixture, enables highly controlled delivery of process heat to an AdMaP reactor. The technology is characterised by enhanced heating rates, reduced temperature gradients throughout the volume of the reactor and overall, a step-change improvement in vessel cycle time. 

This technology is based on the direct coupling of electromagnetic energy to susceptible functional groups of the reaction mixture. This enables near instantaneous heating distributed evenly throughout the material. Requiring less energy use than traditional manufacturing methods, this technology produces a more homogenous product, eliminating the need for extensive downstream processing. However, industrial reactors can be too large to be heated with microwaves directly. The AdMaP project addresses this challenge, focusing on designing a pumped recirculation system that could be retrofitted onto existing reactors, without the need for costly direct replacement of these intensively used capital assets.

AkzoNobel, a global leader in polymer production is leading the development of the innovative AdMaP technology. The project’s academic partner, the Microwave Process Engineering team, part of the Advanced Materials Research Group at the University of Nottingham, is leading the development of the microwave applicator technology, with Teledyne E2V providing the expertise to design and supply the microwave systems. INOX Design, a specialist in the design and fabrication of reactor systems, is responsible for the build of the reactor. CPI is leveraging its extensive network to identify end-users and engage with new commercial partners, as well as providing expertise in chemical engineering to support the design review and safety studies.

Tony Jackson, Formulation Business Unit Director at CPI, said: We are delighted to be providing polymer manufacturers with a means of making better quality product while reducing their energy costs. The AdMaP project demonstrates the importance of bringing end-users into the development process, and CPI is playing a vital role in this, as the bridge between academia and industry.”

The project is funded until Q2 2021 by Innovate UK. For more information about the project and technology, join the partners online for a webinar titled — Microwave heating for the advanced manufacturing of polymers’, on the 24th of May at 12pm GMT, during which the partners can answer questions and explain the technology in more detail. Sign up here.