Small businesses will have more opportunities to enter and innovate industries like hydrogen energy, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture with the opening of Australia’s first flow chemistry facility in Melbourne today.

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, officially opened its FloWorks Centre for Industrial Flow Chemistry in the presence of Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel and representatives from a number of small and medium business partners.

Located in the heart of the Australian Manufacturing and Materials Precinct in Clayton, Victoria, FloWorks provides cutting edge research into flow chemistry capability, making it more accessible to the chemical manufacturing industry and solving challenges associated with developing Australia’s future industries and jobs.

Flow chemistry is a form of chemical manufacturing that is cleaner, smarter and more efficient. The benefits of using the flow process include reduced reaction times and plant space, which equate to less energy cost, more efficient processes, reduced waste and a much safer environment.

The smaller set-up used in flow chemistry reduces barriers to entry for small and medium businesses in what would otherwise be capital-intensive industries.

Dr Christian Hornung, a senior research scientist with CSIRO and drector of the new centre, said FloWorks provides a world-leading research facility and innovation centre for chemistry.

“FloWorks develops scalable and safe chemical processes using an emerging technology called continuous flow chemistry,” Dr Horning said.

“The Centre provides a collaborative space at the cutting-edge of modern chemistry, where we can work with Australian businesses to improve their processes, cut costs and reduce waste.

“Our world-class researchers at FloWorks can work with partners to update their current chemical processes, including from laboratory discovery to continuous flow production scale; from inefficient batch procedures to continuous processes; and offer in-house training for industrial collaborators on our state-of-the-art flow chemistry equipment."

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, said the FloWorks Centre will allow Australian-based researchers to use its capabilities to support emerging renewable hydrogen technology development.

“One of our greatest challenges is to move to a decarbonised economy, and hydrogen has the potential to play an important role in this transition,” Dr Finkel said.

“Maximising the efficiency in both production and use of hydrogen is crucially important. Improvements depend largely on the efficiency of the catalysis. Flow chemistry could be used to improve efficiency, and FloWorks has developed its own catalysis processes in pursuit of this goal.”

Since 2009, CSIRO has worked with small businesses through to multi-nationals using flow chemistry to manufacture innovative new materials like RAFT and other high-performance polymers, Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs), pharmaceuticals and various fine chemicals and specialty materials.

Dr Oliver Hutt is director of business development at Boron Molecular, which was created more than 20 years ago to commercialise CSIRO science, and now uses flow chemistry at their Melbourne plant to manufacturer fine chemicals for Australian and international clients.

“CSIRO helped us integrate flow chemistry into our operations. We use our unit to develop a number of processes or convert them from batch to flow,” Dr Hutt said.
“Examples of the types of technologies we’ve commercialised using flow chemistry include poly-aniline (PANI), a high-performance electroactive polymer used in coating applications, and a suite of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs), next generation high-surface area, porous materials used for applications like gas storage and water treatment,” he said.

FloWorks is open to businesses of all sizes interested in working with CSIRO’s world-class experts to create value using flow chemistry.

This research is supported by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.

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