New sustainable platform to test liquid-formulated products

Chemical engineers are developing a sustainable testing platform which could overcome cost barriers, reduce risk and speed up the manufacturing of liquid-formulated products.

The project will help SMEs and larger companies to more easily deliver products which are scalable, sustainable and economical, ultimately saving resources and funds. It could be of interest to companies spanning a broad range of industries, from pharma to agriculture to aerospace.

Professor Elaine Martin, Head of the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at Leeds, is leading the sensors, process analytics design, data fusion and control elements of the research.

Technology innovation centre CPI (Centre for Process Innovation) – an organisation which collaborates with academia, business, and funders to bring new products to market – is driving the project.

The technology is expected to be fully operational from March 2020 onwards.

Understanding product behaviour

Batch-formulation, a process used to make products such as pharmaceuticals, dyes and pigments, and agricultural treatments, uses excess resources and incurs high costs. To overcome this challenge, CPI’s new platform will allow the rapid learning and analysis of new complex liquid processes before the product being processed is used commercially. 

The platform is equipped with technology that uses specific methods to predict and control product behaviour in real-time during processing. Soon, it will serve as a ‘test-bed’ for novel sensors and process analytical tools.

Ultimately, companies will be able to better understand and control the dynamics of ‘scale-up’ and ‘scale-down’ in batch formulation. In scale-up, products are developed in a series of stages that move from pilot through lab testing and other steps to production to reduce risk before investment. In scale-down, manufacturers investigate and modify the ongoing production processes.

Real-time prediction

The technology is versatile: it can be adjusted to specific project needs depending on the type of product.

Its cutting-edge instrumentation has the capability to produce data which gives insight into how products behave in processing. It also has a data acquisition system which implements process models for the real-time prediction of its parameters.

The platform (main image) has a control system attached to its rig, and a measuring device that is capable of monitoring and controlling the product’s quality. It comprises a sequence of ‘scaled vessels’ which range from one litre to 1,000 litres, and a ‘sample flow loop’ which is used at both the data acquisition and production stages.

Professor Martin said:

“By innovating through the analysis of new complex liquid processes, manufacturers will be able to assure products are processed in the most efficient and sustainable way before capital investment, reducing financial risk."

Our goal is to make the development of the next generation of products more efficient.

Further information

The Universities of Birmingham and Edinburgh are collaborating with Leeds and the CPI to carry out the research.

The equipment is currently housed at the University of Birmingham and it will then be moved to CPI to complement their existing formulation capabilities at Sedgefield.