Process Development

The key objective of the Process Development phase is to identify the ideal conditions for the chemical reaction. It requires understanding the kinetics parameters that govern the process and the physicochemical framework in which the catalyst can operate. Additionally, understanding the economic viability, safety, and environmental suitability remains fundamental before moving to the scale-up phase.

What are the optimal conditions?

Chemical reactions, regardless of the presence of catalysts, are constrained by several physical and chemical parameters. This phase aims to identify the range of values at which the chemical reaction has the highest yield and/or productivity. Still, in the case of catalysts, it also aims to determine the conditions under which the catalyst’s life is the longest.

In the previous section, we mentioned that catalysts can undergo processes that undermine their capabilities. For example, catalysts can experience poisoning, fouling, structural degradation, or leaching processes. In the Process Development phase, these potential undesirable effects need to be identified, and ways to mitigate them must be found. Depending on the type of substance used to accelerate the chemical reaction, these strategies can take different forms:

  • Catalyst coating and active site stabilization: some of the catalyst’s active sites can be susceptible to reacting with other molecules, resulting in irreversible chemical bonds. This reduces the effectivity of the catalysts. Chemical modification of the surface of the catalysts can prevent non-specific reactions by limiting the access of molecules to the active sites and preventing this process.
  • Development of regeneration methods: although one of the characteristics of the catalysts is the recovery of the molecule after the reaction, the reality is that over time, they become less and less effective. Certain processes need to be developed for them to become fully active again. The regeneration reaction will depend on the chemical nature of the catalysts and the modification they have suffered during their active life.
  • Conditioning of the reagents: in many cases, especially in industrial settings, the source material for the reaction is of low purity. The result of this can be the occurrence of side reactions with unpredictable side effects (e.g., fouling and poisoning). Pretreatment of these materials can prove highly effective, reducing potential reduction in the catalyst activity.