How do you safely scale up a given chemical reaction?

If you are working in industry and are responsible for safety, how do you safely scale up a given chemical reaction? How do you tackle issues like heat transfer, gas release, exposure control, waste stream issues and more?

The core of any process safety study is a correct description of both heat and gas release associated to the reaction. How can these be determined experimentally and how can data be used to ensure a safe scale-up?

Each safety study starts with retrieving relevant safety data of your starting materials and reagents, a good starting point is the ECHA website where a tremendous amount of relevant data can be found. When designing or developing a chemical process, it is key to quickly identify “the usual suspects” : certain reagents and types of reactions are notably known for their intrinsic safety issues, identifying them early is crucial to avoid future surprises.

The thermal stability of all components involved in the process should be understood, in order to avoid dangerous decomposition reactions. Techniques to study this stability with different degrees of accuracy are available, and it is important to understand how the obtained data can be used in practice to assure a safe process execution.

In the past decades, process safety studies have shifted from a focus on the mere chemical reaction inside the reactor to a much broader approach. Incidents with waste streams for instance have gained a lot of attention. Although the consequences of these incidents are most often not as devastating a large scale runaway reactions, they can lead to significant personal or material damage and therefore deserve extra attention. From the more technological side, flow chemistry has been used ever more often in recent years in the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industry to enable reaction pathways which cannot be executed safely in a batch manner. This way, executing highly energetic reactions or the in-situ generation of highly reactive reagents, can become feasible on a large scale.

Wim Dermaut is a guest professor at the University of Antwerp teaching process safety to masters curricula in chemistry and chemical engineering. We are very pleased that Wim is also course tutor on the ‘Chemical and Process Safety for Developmental Chemists’ course run in conjunction with Scientific Update Ltd.

Wim will cover many of the issues mentioned above, by using case studies, ‘rules of thumb’ and examples to guide you through the steps to ensure you can safely scale up your reactions. Find out more about the online training course in May by clicking here