Contributed by Ashley Baker, Research Assistant, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®
When Dr. Kirschneck arrived at the 20th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference he wasn’t certain he’d find an audience interested in his work around process intensification. Would the attendees be more focused on academic research and uninterested in a company like his? By the time I interviewed him on Thursday afternoon—the last day of the conference—he found himself thoroughly impressed by the interactions he’d seen among members of industry and academia as well as the quality of technical talks and presentations made by his peers.
When he founded Microinnova Engineering GmbH in 2003, Dr. Dirk Kirschneck’s goal was to develop solutions in the field of micro-reactor technology and micro-chemical engineering (small-scale chemical processing). As his business grew and the market shifted, he extended the company to include continuous chemical processing and process intensification. Over the last decade, Austria-based Microinnova has provided solutions to a range of clients, including some of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies, helping them to develop safer, faster, more efficient chemical processes while reducing waste and energy consumption in their industrial-scale systems. These innovations, in turn, help companies to reduce operating costs while the environment also benefits.
During the interview, Dr. Kirschneck explained that the technology necessary to solve such challenges doesn’t always exist. Continuous processing faces particular challenges around solids, but there are already some solutions. For example, scientists at Microinnova have found that melting substances for direct injection into a reactor can greatly reduce the need for solvents. Last year, Microinnova built a plant to apply this technology on a large scale. In addition, they’ve built two plants for continuous crystallization.
Microinnova’s team of nearly a dozen R&D specialists is constantly innovating new strategies. “Our aim is to make a process the best it can possibly be, whether it’s a chemical process, a work-up process, or a formulation process,” says Kirschneck. “That’s the vision that fuels Microinnova. We have many tools now that we can use to make sure every molecule is made in the best way.” Always on the lookout for new approaches, Kirschneck came to GC&E hoping to find new inspirations. A presentation at the conference on solvent selection, among others, has given him new perspective on some of Microinnova’s current challenges.
Whether it’s re-designing a chemical route or exploring a reduction in size of a manufacturing facility, Dr. Kirschneck is optimistic about the new technologies Microinnova is developing and industry engagement in green chemistry and engineering, “For process, it’s important that we see industry involvement, and that’s very present here [at the GC&E Conference]. There are many types of people interacting around a wide range of topics that can contribute to our work.”
It’s been more than a decade since Microinnova first began providing sustainable process solutions, and the needs of industry have changed in that time—for the better. “In the past,” he explained, “companies were more focused on fixing a single problematic step. Now, we’re seeing them ask for more end-to-end, holistic solutions.”
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