Chemical reactors come in a variety of designs. Ordinarily, they range from bullet shaped pressure vessels to a pipe for plug flow reactions to a variety of cylindrical vessel designs.  A big metal reaction vessel has several names- a pot, kettle, or reactor. Reactors can be customized with add-on components to suit specific requirements for agitation efficiency. Reactors can be used for continuous reaction as in the case of a CSTR, or for batch and semi-batch operations.  Custom reactors may be built to provide unique performance specifications.

General purpose reactors can be purchased new or used. They come in a variety of materials of construction. Glassed reactors have a layer of vitreous glaze on the interior walls- often blue in color- and are resistant to corrosion, but may be harmed by thermal shock or electrostatic discharge.

Steel and stainless steel reactors come in a variety of alloy compositions. Hastelloy reactors can be acquired for enhanced resistance to corrosive materials, but at a steep price premium. Vessels with various types of cladding are available- Zr, Ni, Ti, Monel, Inconel, Hastelloy, Cupro Nickel.  It is possible to obtain titanium or tantalum condensers for pots with particularly harsh duty.

Processes that require highly specialized materials of construction are usually more expensive. This can put considerable constraints on the process economics, since it is desirable to have the product requiring the specialized materials pay off the extra costs in a reasonable time period. This pay-off is in the form of a product price premium and/or depreciation. Taking on a project requiring specialized equipment often requires the cost analysis skills of an engineer to throw together a business case study. Perry’s Chemical Engineers Handbook is an excellent resource for this kind of activity.

Agitators are a very important part of the reaction vessel system. Motors, gear boxes, and impellers of various performance specs can be mixed and matched for projected requirements. Impellers are power absorbing implements. They absorb power from the drive motor. The job of an impeller is to dump the required number of watts per kilogram of solution into the reaction mixture to provide satisfactory shear. The energy required depends upon the geometry of the impeller and the density and viscosity of the mixture.

When trying to simulate a reaction on the bench top, it is critical to reproduce the big reactors shear at the smaller scale. Very often, this means that the rpm must be adjusted upwards to get the proper energy transfer. A great resource for this kind of work is the Pilot Plant Real Book, by Francis McConville.

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