Cut chemical manufacturing costs in half | CHEManager

2022.10.17 – Traditional batch chemistry is too inefficient for a sustainable future. Moving from batch to continuous processing is inevitable if the world is to reach net zero.

CHEManager: Mr. Cherkasov, what was your motivation for founding Stoli Chem?

Nikolai Cherkasov: I spent many years in academia in chemistry and engineering, having published over 50 research papers. On the strength of this experience, I sought to share it for the benefit of manufacturing companies. Ideas must work. Today we have a multinational team centered at our Wellesbourne site, just south of Birmingham in the heart of the UK.
You and your team invented and developed the Saber Flux Reactor. What problem does this technology solve?
N. Cherkasov: Traditionally, batch processes are used for chemical production. Processes run in batches are limited by the discontinuous nature: processes are started and then completed, then prepared for the next one. The saber converts the lot into flow. In flow chemistry, the process runs 24/7, which means you generate more product and value.
Continuous chemistry opens up more opportunities for processing chemicals as well as more hazardous chemicals such as explosives and highly exothermic reactions. Smaller volume intensified reactors prevent runaway with much more control.

What have been the most exciting projects so far?

N. Cherkasov: We had projects that were both exciting and stimulating. One recently focused on the corrosive chemistry of sulfur, and another using viscous sludge proved difficult, but succeeded in showing the versatility of the reactor. Perhaps the most exciting projects are our recent projects involving light and enabling photochemistry to be undertaken in our glass reactor. The future is certainly bright!

What are the benefits of converting batch processes to streams?

N. Cherkasov: The main advantages of flow conversion come from exceptional heat transfer, which means that the reaction temperature is better controlled. Along with that, the Saber has best-in-class mixing capabilities. This high mixing capacity enables high mass transfer and means that the reactants are perfectly homogenized.
The Saber uses a series of CSTRs (Continuous Stirred Tank Reactors) which are essentially a series of batch reactors stacked on top of each other. Reagents move from tank to tank throughout the process. The unique saber design allows additional reagents to be added at any stage of the process providing complete control.
One of the examples of case studies using the saber showed that in an enzymatic esterification, the throughput increased tenfold over the batch. Everyone can see the value of these types of increases!

What makes your reactor unique?

N. Cherkasov: Mixing is independent of fluid flow rates. This means that scaling up is simpler and expands the possibilities of undertaking a wider range of chemical reactions.

Unique spray tubes that run the length of the interior of the reactor allow for the addition of reagents or in-line sampling.
Our reactor configuration allows for precise reaction control, as well as first-rate mixing.

Our reactor is also easy to use and comes in a variety of materials to ensure chemical compatibility. The reactor can also handle combinations of liquids, solids and gases.

Which application areas do you mainly focus on?

N. Cherkasov: Many of our customers are in fine chemicals, specialty chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Although our technology can be applied to any fluid process.

What will be your next steps in terms of technological and commercial development?

N. Cherkasov: Our main priority is now to scale up our reactor, to help as many companies as possible switch to flow chemistry.

Lamp business idea

Revolutionizing chemical industries

Stoli Chem’s vision is to save the chemical industry millions of dollars by increasing the efficiency, safety and sustainability of chemical processes. The fine chemical industries use processes that have not changed for centuries. Most of these chemical processes are carried out in batch reactors for simplicity. An alternative to batch processing is flow processing (or continuous chemistry). The saber allows for scalable chemistry (flow) from lab to production scale.

Batch manufacturing has inherent flaws. By definition, batch processing is a start-stop process. After each batch cycle there is a period of cleaning and preparation before a new batch can begin. This is unproductive downtime. In GMP pharma, a fully utilized batch reactor produces chemicals no more than 10% of the time.

Flow, by definition, is continuous. The saber uses a series of Continuous Stirred Tank Reactors (CSTRs), ten in total. These CSTRs can be thought of as small batch reactors with the reactants moving from tank to tank. This similarity to batch processing means that converting from batch to stream processing is easier. In each tank, a turbine rotates up to 1,300 rpm ensuring the homogenization of the reagents.

Uniquely, reagents can be added at any stage of the process to enable optimal conversions to valuable products. Temperature is controlled via a jacket surrounding the reactor, and stirring is controlled by a stirrer head magnetically connected to the stirrer shaft of the reactor.

Flow reactors have a smaller footprint than batch reactors and can often produce as much. Therefore, the same manufacturing size allows for higher and more efficient production.

Elevator Summary in seconds

Sustainable chemical production

Durability does not demand a high price. At least in chemical production, sustainability could be economic. The keys are efficiency and scalability. Current batch production practices are scalable but neither efficient nor sustainable. On the other hand, continuous manufacturing is much more efficient in terms of cost, energy and materials; but is not scalable without investments of millions. Stoli Chem provides tools for continuous scalable and sustainable chemical production.

Based on the experience of the academic founders, they have developed technology that breaks and overcomes standard flow dilemmas. In most flow processes, mixing velocity, pressure drop, residence time, and fluid feed rates are interrelated. If the process is modified or scaled up, everything changes, requiring significant (and expensive) R&D work to regain and maintain control of the process.

In the saber system, mixing is decoupled from flow rates. This design opens up enormous flexibility – processes can be changed or scaled while maintaining exceptional process control. The system opens up the possibility of accelerating and intensifying multiphase processes (including solids!) that plague standard flow systems.
The future of Stoli Chem is promising. The flagship saber proves popular for chemists and R&D engineers. Stoli Chem is currently working on scaling and opening up photochemical applications.


Foundation of Stoli Chem as a spin-out from the University of Warwick

Competitive Horizon 2020, SME Instruments project started to scale chemical synthesis technology from 1 to 100 kg/day

Lab scale saber reactors available

A project has begun aimed at expanding and demonstrating the manufacture of 1,000 t/yr chemicals

Road map

Launch of a kilo-scale photochemical reactor

Launched 10L saber system for kiloton production

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