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Neutrons & Industry

ISIS and ILL work with industry and manufacturing to improve the efficiency of their processes, catalysts and quality control, helping the UK’s firms remain competitive in a global market.


Stress relief in the air

Neutron scattering helps major aerospace companies assure the quality of engineering components.

Understanding stress distributions in aircraft parts after manufacturing is particularly important for the aircraft industry.  

Neutron scattering can be used to map internal stresses giving information about the effectiveness of different manufacturing and processing techniques. The technique is well-suited for these studies as it is non-destructive and can look deep inside components.;

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has used neutron scattering for many years to research the integrity of welds in aluminium alloys, and to assess their suitability for future aircraft. This enables engineers to adjust the manufacturing process and make lighter and safer aircraft parts at a lower cost.

“Residual stress measurements using neutron scattering are invaluable for researching and developing existing and novel material manufacturing and processing techniques.”
Richard Burguete, experimental mechanics specialist, Airbus 

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Molecular makeover

Energy savings and cleaner manufacturing follow a molecular makeover.

Ineos ChlorVinyls is Europe's largest PVC manufacturer. More than 100,000 tonnes of methyl chloride are synthesised at its Runcorn site every year to make a wide range of everyday materials from plastics to pharmaceuticals. 

Methyl chloride is made by passing methanol and hydrogen chloride over a catalyst that accelerates the chemical reaction. But IneosChlor found that a side product was also produced wasting energy and which was expensive to recycle back to methanol. 

A collaboration between the University of Glasgow and Ineos ChlorVinyls used neutron scattering to understand what was happening at a molecular scale on the surface of the catalyst.

With this new insight, the catalyst surface was modified, significantly reducing the cost of the manufacturing process by almost completely eliminating the unwanted side product and avoiding construction of a new waste handling plant.

The new catalyst has now been operating continuously on both of the Runcorn methyl chloride reactors for several years.

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Tackling chemical waste in the pharmaceutical industry

Ionic liquids have the potential to revolutionise the pharmaceutical industry.

Chemical waste is an expensive problem for the pharmaceutical industry, but researchers have used neutron scattering to develop a new approach that makes many chemicals easier to work with and helps reduce waste.

The vast majority of processes for making pharmaceutical ingredients are carried out in some form of organic solvent. However, organic solvents vaporise easily and can catch fire, making process safety an issue. Pharmaceutical ingredients also have to be free from all traces of solvent make sure the drugs are safe.

Professor Chris Hardacre at Queen’s University Belfast has developed a new approach using ionic liquids. Ionic liquids are highly stable, non-flammable solvents that don’t emit dangerous volatile organic components, and don’t get caught up in the final product.

Neutron scattering data was essential in obtaining a molecular view of the liquid structure and to develop the correct formulation. The product was sold to Merck KGaA, one of the industry leaders in ionic liquids.

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Molecular insight gives industry a competitive edge

State-of-the art neutron experiments unlock the secret of a major industrial process

The Lindlar catalyst is used in the commercial manufacture of vitamins and a range of other applications. Evonik Industries, a manufacturer of Lindlar and many other catalysts, wanted to acquire a competitive edge by developing a unique understanding of the Lindlar catalyst.

The catalyst incorporates the metals palladium and lead. Both the palladium and the lead play key roles. The palladium splits molecules in hydrogen gas into separate hydrogen atoms needed for chemical production, while the lead enables the catalyst to stop the reaction at the required point.

Neutron scattering provided the missing piece of the jigsaw by shedding light on what exactly happens on the surface of the catalyst during a chemical reaction. Evonik now know precisely how the Lindlar catalyst behaves and why it is so effective. 

Applying new analytical methods is one key step to understanding the critical parameters that control the performance of a catalyst. This will help us to improve further our industrial catalysts for the benefit of our customers.” 
 Dr Konrad Möbus, Evonik Industries

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Last updated: 15 September 2017


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