Scheme: Industry Fellowship
Organisation: Unilever Research & Development Port Sunlight
Dates: Aug 2007-Jul 2011
Summary: The quality & performance of chemical products (including as food and drink, fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, lubricants, biodiesel and waste water treatment) is ensured by design & operation of effective & efficient processes. A characteristic of chemical products is that the product value as experienced by the user depends partly on the chemical ingredients (formulation) and partly on the physical properties (rheology, optical properties, etc.). It is well known that the way we bring materials together in a process can have an enormous influence on the properties (i.e. particle size and distribution, stability, appearance, viscosity, molecular weight) of a chemical product and hence on its performance. These properties in turn are a function of the product microstructure which can range from 10nm to 100um and depend on the phase volume, local concentration profiles, heating and cooling rates and speed and intensity of mixing. Consequently if we are to realise the full value of the product, process and product must, in fact, be designed concurrently. Moreover the quality and performance of a product can be greatly enhanced by the design of process strategies and equipment to assemble products in the optimal manner.
Traditionally this problem is solved by working with dilute systems so that the kinetics are slow and consequently it is easy to maintain a homogeneous mixture. Unfortunately for many emerging materials this leads to processes which are impractical and uneconomic with a poor sustainability profile. In this project we will work with concentrated and even two phase systems where reaction rates are fast and so the interaction of the chemistry with the mixing and emulsification of ingredients is critical to the control of particle size and shape and to allow reactions to proceed rapidly and to completion with high selectivity and yield. Much of the experimental work will be carried out on the recently created Ultra Mixing & Processing Facility (a £2.4M project established by the Microsystems and Nano Technology initiative). The facility is unique will for the first time enables us to optimise the preparation of nanostructured materials for optimal performance.