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A Brief History of MRT at Sigma-Aldrich — Our Mission

By: Matthias Junkers, ChemFiles Volume 9 Article 4

The purchase of an integrated flow chemistry system with a stainless steel microreactor in 2004 was Sigma-Aldrich’s start into the exciting world of Microreactor Technology promoted by the early enthusiasts Fabian Wahl and Gernot Müller, today director of manufacturing and head of small-scale production (Figure 8). At its Buchs site in Switzerland, Sigma-Aldrich used the new technology to replace problematic batch synthesis processes. Soon limitations of the first microreactor system were discovered. For example, the steel reactor does not permit the use of corrosive reagents. The market was screened for alternative solutions, but no system was found that would meet all the requirements defined by Sigma-Aldrich:

  • One single integrated MRT system for R&D scale evaluation of new synthesis procedures and immediate scale-up to kilogram quantities
  • All reagent-touching materials should be metal free to ensure utmost compatibility with aggressive reagents
  • Small and mobile system that can be moved easily between laboratories, set up fast when needed and put aside again when not needed
  • Single fume-hood installation
  • Handling as easy and simple as possible
  • Small and robust monitoring unit that fits into laboratory environments and does not require training for complicated software
  • Highly versatile system for all kinds of chemical transformations in liquid phase
  • Offer only features a chemist really needs
  • Enabling tool for accelerated process development

Figure 8: Initiators of Sigma-Aldrich’s journey to MRT, F. Wahl and G. Müller

As a natural conclusion, the decision was made to develop such a system in-house. A team of experts was formed around the highly experienced senior scientist Gregor Wille (for a picture please refer to the case studies chapter), who established a knowledge network with manufacturers and other users. Consequently, the Sigma-Aldrich Microreactor Explorer Kit was realized. In close cooperation with Little Things Factory in Germany, the glass microreactor designed by Sigma-Aldrich was developed further over several generations (Figure 9). After it had proved its usability not only in test reactions, but also in “real life” for the production of Sigma-Aldrich catalog products and SAFC custom synthesis, Sigma-Aldrich started to offer the Microreactor Explorer Kit as product 19979 to customers worldwide in 2007 (Figure 10).

Figure 9: Two-layered XXL-version (15 mL) of Sigma-Aldrich’s glass-microreactor manufactured by Little Things Factory

Figure 10: Sigma-Aldrich Microreactor Explorer Kit 19979 prototype

Today, microreactors are used at Sigma-Aldrich for the production of about 40 catalog products. A dedicated R&D research group continues to develop new flow chemistry synthesis routines. Another team in process development routinely uses the MRE kit to accelerate their work. Several custom synthesis projects have successfully been finished with Microreactor technology. Some selected examples will be explained in detail in the following chapters highlighting the specific benefits that were achieved with Microreactor Technology. At the next stage, Microreactor Technology know-how is spread to other Sigma-Aldrich subsidiaries all over the world with the MRE Kit 19979.

The Sigma-Aldrich Microreactor Explorer kit covers production ranges from R&D scale to kilogram amounts of product. For larger production needs, several systems were evaluated at Sigma-Aldrich. Recently, an Alfa Laval Art® plate reactor was acquired to close the gap to larger production scales. Initial experience with this flow reactor shows that process knowledge gained with the Microreactor Explorer Kit 19979 can directly be transferred to the larger plate reactor.

Now our mission is to let customers benefit from Sigma-Aldrich’s extensive MRT experience and equipment by exploring microreactor technology themselves with the MRE kit 19979, and by faster completion of custom synthesis projects. 

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Microreactor Technology Facilities at Sigma-Aldrich

  • Highly experienced and dedicated staff in R&D, process development and production
  • Sigma-Aldrich Microreactor Explorer Kit 19979
  • CPC-CYTOS® based stainless steel microreactor
  • Borosilicate glass reactors with different mixing regimes and different sizes manufactured by Little Things Factory
  • Alfa Laval Art® plate reactor

Figure 11: Alfa-Laval Art plate reactor for large scale synthesis (>1kg)

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