Chemists Present a Way to Infer the Enigmatic Temperature Variations Inside a Reactor

Posted on

cover nature 1

Research by Prof. Louis Bouchard and colleagues (published in the October 24, 2013 issue of Nature) was highlighted in the issue’s editorial article, titled, “Magnetic Map.” Most chemical products start their lives as oil. And most of the conversion processes used to turn the black stuff into plastics, fuels and the rest rely on catalysts. Given the sensitivity of catalysts and Earth’s dwindling supplies of oil, you might think that these reactions would be among the most studied and the best understood in the chemist’s cookbook.

Unfortunately not. In fact, for many chemists and chemical engineers — those who work with bucketloads of reactants rather than the contents of pipettes — what goes on inside an industrial reactor is something of a mystery. It’s a black box. Indeed, when some textbooks and academic papers on the subject show flow charts of chemical processes, they actually represent the reactor, the beating heart of our industrial society, as a black box. If process engineers want to know what happens inside — and so how to make it more efficient, safer or more environmentally friendly — they measure what comes out, compare it with what goes in, and make an educated guess.

To read the rest of the article, please visit

In addition, C&EN has also covered the research in their piece, Taking Reactor Temperatures – NMR Thermometry: New method could fine-tune output and energy efficiency.  The C&EN article is available here.  Images from the C&EN article shown below (photo credit: Louis Bouchard).


FEEL THE HEAT: As propylene and hydrogen flow (left to right) through a millimeter-diameter reactor packed with platinum particles and form propane, an NMR thermometry method maps the gas temperature. Yellow and red regions are hottest; blue regions are coolest. 1382651704772
An NMR thermometry method can probe variations in gas temperature with high thermal and spatial resolution as propylene (purple) and hydrogen (yellow) react to form propane (blue) as they flow through a porous metal-organic framework loaded with palladium nanoparticles.