Turntable-like catalytic reactor wins Innovate funding

The Spinning Disc Mesh Reactor developed by Bath chemical engineers aims to make pharmaceutical production safer and more sustainable

A catalytic reactor, developed by University of Bath chemical engineers Dr Emma Emanuelsson-Patterson and Dr Parimala Shivaprasad, has won funding from Innovate UK.

The Spinning Disc Mesh Reactor (SMDR) creates chemicals and APIs by reacting chemicals with enzymes on a spinning cloth-covered plate, like a vinyl record.

The pair’s company, SMDR, has won funding from Innovate UK to commercialise the reactor and market it to pharmaceutical companies following its 12-year development.

The SMDR creates chemicals by imitating the action of a record player: an enzyme applied to a woollen cloth disc is spun on a turntable, where it reacts with a chemical substrate, creating the desired compound or API.

The Emanuelsson research group has reportedly shown using a cloth disc protects the enzymes from denaturing or shearing, which renders them unusable, and allows optimal contact between the enzyme catalyst and the substrate, which ensures fast reactions. This means the catalyst cloth disc can be used for far longer, making the process cheaper and more sustainable than traditional reactors.

Dr Emanuelsson-Patterson said: “The basic principle of the SMDR is using the centrifugal forces generated by rotation to create a very consistent and repeatable reaction. Chemical engineers strive to enhance this kind of ‘mass transfer’ as it produces faster reactions, and in our case more chemicals or APIs.”

Dr Shivaprasad said: “One of the main advantages of the SMDR essentially works a little bit like a jukebox that can switch between records. Using the catalyst cloth mesh discs, which can be swapped easily and quickly, means we can apply a range of different reagents or catalysts rapidly, creating a wide range of chemicals or APIs.”

The project has received £68,500 in funding from Innovate UK Sustainable Funding Round 2, a part of UK Research and Innovation.

Dr Ian Campbell, interim Executive Chair for Innovate UK, said: “In these difficult times, we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy.

“SMDR Ltd, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.”

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