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Micro-reactors Increase the Yield of Chemical Reactions

However, the devices can also be used for a variety of other chemical combinations and reactions such as pharmaceuticals and, for example, to increase the production of explosives. For example, the microreactors built at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology can crank out nitroglycerine ten times faster than current conventional "vessels" can do.

According to the research group, the safety of the production process depends on an ability to keep an explosive material from exploding. The heat created by the process cannot be greater than the heat that can be removed. Lesser amounts of material create greater surfaces and enables the production process to control the heat removal more efficiently. And, should something go wrong, the explosion may be much less devastating than in larger "agitation vessels". In contrast to the traditional production units, a microreactor creates an assembly-line style creation of the finished product. The research team said that the base materials flow through tiny channels into the reaction chamber and react with one another "for several seconds" before flowing through other channels into a second microreactor for purification.

Similarly, the improvement of a microreactor is an ongoing process. The scientists monitor reaction in real time via techniques such as spectroscophy, which allows them to consistently improve yields and prevent undesired products from forming. They also apply a method of calorimetry to measure the released heat and understand how quickly and completely the reaction is proceeding and how to adjust environmental conditions to maintain a safe production scenario.

The researchers said that their microreactors are already used in industrial production.