Corning Disruptive Innovation: Continuous Flow Technology

China Chemical Industry News (CCIN) named Corning AFR as one of the role models of China’s thirteenth Five-Year Plan, showcasing the business’ achievements and value to China’s growth over the past five years. 

Based on an article published by China Chemical Industry News (CCIN) in Chinese, December 28, 2020.

Innovation is the core of Corning’s success, and an important cornerstone of the company’s growth in China. Looking back on Corning’s rich history of innovation – from providing the glass encasement for the lightbulb invented by Thomas Edison, to the communication revolution brought by low-loss optical fiber; from the display technology used in thousands of households, to high-quality, innovative life sciences products that enable the production and delivery of life-changing medicines and treatments: Corning continually promotes the development and application of technology through innovation to improve  people’s lives.

Dr. Yi Jiang, president and general manager of Corning Advanced-Flow Reactor Technology Co., Ltd., said that Corning’s Advanced-Flow™ Reactor (AFR) Technology is one of the important innovations for the sustainable development of inherently safer chemical manufacturing. At present, Corning Advanced-Flow Reactor technology has built inherently safer continuous flow production equipment systems with annual flow throughput of 10,000 metric tons in two important fields – China’s pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries. These systems have continued successful operation for more than three years and achieved great economic and social benefits for their customers.

Innovative gene: Corning Advanced-Flow Reactor Technology gains credibility

Based on the company’s expertise in advanced materials and processing technology, Corning has extended the concept of micro reaction technology to the research and development, as well as production of fine chemical and pharmaceutical chemicals. Corning’s unique channel design gives customers a new & smart synthesis technology with inherently safer, superior performance and lower energy consumption.

Yi said that since Corning’s first research on the "microchannel module" in 2002, the company has been committed to the innovation of micro-channel continuous flow technology. As of May 2020, 227 patents have been applied for and 170 patents have been granted for Corning AFR technology worldwide, including 33 in China.

Corning AFR Technology includes the continuous improvement of product lines and the continuous expansion of their applications. Since the first reactor with annual flow throughput of 80 tons/year was put into industrial application in 2008, the advantages of Corning AFR in the processing of hazardous chemical reactions have been significantly improved compared with batch reactor technologies. There are a lot of hazardous chemical reactions in the fine chemical processing industry, such as nitrification, hydrogenation, chlorination, sulfonation, fluorination, etc. The reaction speed is fast and the heat is rapidly released. Conventional batch reactors often have potential risks of “temperature runaway”, or “material clashing”, and even explosion accidents. In view of the current situation of fine chemical and pharmaceutical processes, to solve the problems of safety, efficiency and production capacity, Corning has successively launched innovative Advanced-Flow Reactor products with annual flow throughput of 250 tons, 1000 tons, 2000 tons, 3500 tons and 10,000 tons per reactor.

Among them, the most critical point is that Corning reactors have low liquid holding capacity, continuous and controllable processing, a high degree of automation and enable seamless scale-up. It is an inherently safer chemical R&D and production technology, which can lower the risk of the reaction process from the start. Through years of innovation and practice, Corning provides a variety of continuous unit technologies and the technical expertise required for system integration. Continuous production with a high degree of automation can not only reduce manufacturing footprint, but can also reduce labor, waste and improve unit-space profitability.

Promoting application: remarkable economic and social benefits

Product innovation is based on application. Corning has been promoting its Advanced-Flow Reactor technology for many years and is committed to helping customers realize the value and benefits of continuous manufacturing.

In 2018, the Corning AFR team worked closely with Shandong Yifeng Biochemical Co., Ltd. to build a fully automatic AFR nitrification production system with total annual flow throughput of 10,000 metric tons. Compared with a traditional plant, the average output per space was increased 10 times with overall footprint reduction of 90% and operating cost reduction of more than 20%.

In 2019, in Zhejiang Weihua New Material Science and Technology Co., Ltd., (Weihua) Corning's new G5 reactor with annual flow throughput of 10,000 metric tons per reactor was used in diazotization and hydrolysis reaction processes. Through its use of Corning’s G5 reactor, not only was the whole process fully automatic and continuous, but the yield was greatly improved, which enabled shorter reaction time, less waste, labor and space occupation, etc.

In the past year, the Corning AFR team has helped companies carry out inherently safer technical transformation of hazardous chemicals production in many provinces, especially in nitrification production plants with potential safety hazards that require urgent transformation. These successful cases of industrial application, on one hand, enable customers to apply new technologies to realize more environmentally conscious processes, more automatic and inherently safer production, and meanwhile bring considerable economic and social benefits to customers in real production. On the other hand, the production of some hazardous chemicals restricted by safety and environmental protection has been licensed due to the use of Corning’s inherently safer technology, ensuring the integrity of the chemical supply chain.

Recently the pharmaceutical industry has been faced with many challenges, including development speed, production cost, product quality, supply reliability, etc. At this stage, the outbreak of COVID-19 has been accelerating the development of new drugs, and drug production needs to be more rapid and flexible. As a result, Corning and its customers have obtained the support of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the innovative application and development of continuous manufacturing technologies in the pharmaceutical industry. Corning’s unique modular, multi-functional, continuous flow synthesis production platform can meet the FDA’s rigorous compliance standards. Additionally, Corning’s reactor technologies and all system components meet high standards for safety, environmental and economic requirements. In 2017, Corning and Zhejiang Pharmaceutical Group jointly built a full continuous flow production installation with an annual flow throughput of 10,000 metric tons of vitamin intermediates. The consistent continuous production successfully achieved stable operation for more than three years. The device not only has stable product quality, but also improves the yield by more than several percentage points, while also greatly reducing the waste liquid, realizing inherently safer and clean production, with remarkable economic and social benefits for the customer.

Continuous flow technology is becoming a strategic investment field of the world pharmaceutical group and CDMO. Large international pharmaceutical groups such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Amgen have applied continuous flow technology to the research and development, as well as the production of drugs. In large pharmaceutical and CDMO, such as Zhejiang Pharmaceutical, Tianjin Pharmaceutical, Qilu pharmaceutical, Wuxi AppTec, Zhejiang Jiuzhou pharmaceutical, Asymchem and other large pharmaceutical and CDMO, continuous flow reactor technology has become the crucial method for research and development and production platforms.

Corning’s innovative technology is not only used in the fine chemical and pharmaceutical industries, but also expanding use in the fields of agrochems, flavors and fragrances, high-performance materials, biotechnology, and high-end life nutrition products. Corning is committed to the application of new fields, so that customers can enjoy the benefits of continuous flow technology, including inherently safer production, continuity, high efficiency, stable quality and cost reduction.

Build on advantages, Cultivate talent

According to Yi, the vigorous development of continuous flow technology requires a large number of professional and technical personnel. Since 2009, Corning has been collaborating with more than 50 universities around the world in teaching and scientific research at different levels. Through the cooperation of industry and academia, the technology transformation of new products developed by the institutes and universities with continuous flow technology can be realized as soon as possible. In terms of talent training, Corning has developed Corning Nebula™ Education Kits and continuous flow teaching courses together with university professors and students, which has achieved remarkable results. Corning and MIT's Department of chemical engineering's flow chemistry program were named the school's best course in 2018.

On October 28, Corning’s chemistry and chemical engineering teaching platform was introduced at Fuzhou University, opening the continuous flow teaching course for graduate students. Additionally, Corning and Changzhou Vocational Institute of Engineering Technology have jointly built the Institute of Inherently Safer Technology.

Relying on the advantages of Corning AFR technology, a global scientific research team, and upstream and downstream supporting partners, Corning is striving to provide comprehensive technical services for global customers in continuous flow process development, industrial automation production and talent training, so as to build a global continuous flow technology ecological chain.

Innovation will certainly enable Corning to write a new chapter of high-quality development in the new era.