It is not unreasonable to say that the specificity of Polymer Reaction Engineering (PRE) has always been the very strong relationship between the product one obtains, and the process and reactor used to make it. As the adage goes “polymers are product by process”. One could say that PRE is about quantitatively understanding and describing how the polymer molecules are assembled in the reactor – understanding how to make specific molecules react together to form well-defined and useful products. This obviously implies that we are able to model the fundamental steps taking place, to monitor the reactor, to control the process operations, optimize process performance, and predict how all of this defines the structure of the products we are making. Of course, one also needs to consider the additional constraints linked to, for instance, the exothermicity of the reaction, variable and high viscosity, non-ideal kinetics, actions of cocatalysts and kinetic mechanisms in coordination polymerization, particle nucleation and coagulation in emulsion polymerization, etc. And of course, one cannot forget the need to include basic, fundamental science like surface chemistry, thermodynamics, etc. Incorporating all these aspects are some of the basic building blocks of PRE.
Since the large-scale manufacturing of synthetic polymers began some 80 or 90 years ago, engineers and scientists have been building a better fundamental picture of the underlying science of polymerization. This began with what appears now to be a simple concept – the fact that a polymer is in fact a macromolecule with specific structure that we can control. Since then, better descriptions of polymerization kinetics and methods of polymer characterization have allowed us to design better, cleaner more efficient processes to control the physical properties of these macromolecules better than ever before. In addition, advanced computational tools are allowing us to more efficiently solve the models that we are developing. The body of knowledge pertaining to the production of polymers continues to increase, pushing some people to question whether or not polymer science in general, and polymer reaction engineering in particular are mature fields where only incremental progress is now possible.
Celebrating 60 years of international, interdisciplinary engineering conferences
This 11th edition of the Polymer Reaction Engineering Conference focused took place in Scottsdale (Arizona, US) on 11-15 December 2022. It focused on using the tools developed over the course of the past 75 years, new and old, to design polymers for current and future applications. The objective of the conference was to demonstrate that this last view is far from true. PRE tools, and the understanding they provide are essential in a modern world – not just for traditional applications, but also for emerging applications. Polymers play an essential role in the development of emerging applications, including: cleaner energy sources such as batteries for cars, trucks and eventually airplanes; lighter, longer lasting tires for transportation; life sciences and prosthetics; biodegradable and sustainable materials from non-petroleum-based sources; 3D manufacturing, and many others. PRE tools will even play an important role in designing pathways and processes for the recycling of plastics.
PRE XI provided a forum for approx.. 50 representatives of both academic and industrial scientists to demonstrate that polymer reaction engineering tools and approaches are important in a modern economy and a modern world, and that the fundamental concepts used to create new, well-defined materials are more pertinent now than ever.
NanoPAT was very well represented in the conference, as particle size monitoring techniques can be very useful in the emulsion polymerization field, due to the effect that the particle size and the particle size distribution has in the final applications of the latex. All 3 NanoPAT particle size monitoring techniques were presented in the conference:
Firstly, Jose Ramón Leiza (UPV/POLYMAT) co-chaired the session 2 on “On-line tools – hardware and software – for the polymer industry”.
Furthermore, Usue Aspiazu (UPV/POLYMAT) gave an oral presentation with the title “Inline monitoring of particle size in emulsion polymerization processes by Photon Density Wave (PDW) Spectroscopy”, where she talked about the suitability of PDW spectroscopy to inline monitor the particle size of polyacrylate latexes during their synthesis. Moreover, Usue also presented a poster about the potentiality of Turbidity Spectroscopy (TUS) to online monitor the particle size of the polyacrylate latexes, with the title “Turbidity Spectroscopy as a Potential Tool to Online Monitor Emulsion Polymerization Processes: Wavelength exponent (ω) theory”.
Additionally, Christian Hill (MUG), as invited speaker, gave an oral presentation (“Process analytics with OptoFluidic Force Induction (OF2i). A BRAVE new way in online particle characterization”) on the possibilities of OF2i to online monitor the particle size and the particle size distribution of different kind of nanomaterials and the benefits of using it in the manufacture of polymers.