Theme overview

Reaction engineering is a discipline within chemical engineering that deals with chemical reactors and catalysis, or the process of increasing the rate of a chemical reaction by adding a substance known as a catalyst.

Through this research theme, scientists aim to improve the way chemical reactions are carried out through the design of more effective catalysts and catalytic routes and through the intensification of chemical reactions via new reactor designs.

Their work hopes to make chemical processes more flexible and efficient and to minimise the adverse effects that the production of chemicals and fuels have on the world’s resources and the natural environment.

Example projects within this research theme include the conversion of biomass into fuels, addressing the plastic waste problem and hydrogen generation in fuel cells.

Aside from this, the reactions engineering research theme also covers an important aspect of chemical engineering called green chemistry, which involves making all chemical processes more environmentally friendly.

Scientific scope

The research in this theme uses a great deal of high temperature and high pressure reactions in custom-built reactors capable of operating under a wide range of conditions.

We have expertise in reactor design and construction of batch and continuous flow reactors, as well as custom bio- and photocatalytic reactors. We have also designed novel membrane reactions and structured materials, with impregnated/integrated catalysts capable of high efficiency and selectivity.

We have longstanding expertise in electrochemical catalysis and enzymatic biocatalysis.

Finally, we utilise novel reaction media (supercritical fluids, ionic liquids) to improve reactivity, activate catalytic systems, enhance safety and minimise environmental impact of chemical processing.

Other research themes including Energy and environmental engineering and Materials have strong links to the work carried out here.

Highlight videos

Impact Acceleration: Flow Chemistry

Dr Mimi Hii and Professor Klaus Hellgardt reveal how flow chemistry will change the way in which we manufacture everyday products. Find out more

Impact Acceleration: Flow Chemistry

Impact Acceleration: Flow Chemistry

We look at how flow chemistry will change the way in which we manufacture everyday products.

Dr Mimi Hii and Professor Klaus Hellgardt reveal how flow chemistry will change the way in which we manufacture everyday products. Find out more

Imperial College London | Fully Charged

Imperial College London | Fully Charged

Robert Llewellyn visits Imperial College London to learn about the future of energy.

Industrial applications


BASF is a German multinational chemical company and the largest chemical producer in the world.

Imperial College London and BASF partnered in 2020, working to developed flow chemistry which is an innovative approach to chemical production.

Traditionally, chemicals are produced in batches by placing the ingredients, reagents, into vessels known as batch reactors. Considerable time is allowed to complete the reaction before the product is extracted and therefore the whole process can be very time consuming.

In contrast, in flow chemistry, chemicals are produced continuously by pumping reagents through the reactor, a process that is easier to control and produces more consistent results.

Manufacturing advances

While some companies, including BASF, already use continuous processes routinely to manufacture chemicals at large scale (typically kilotonnes), a key challenge is to implement flow chemistry at smaller scales (kilograms), specifically for the manufacture of low-volume, high-value chemicals, including speciality chemicals.

Continuous flow would also allow them to distribute manufacturing across smaller plants, reducing the cost of shipping and creating more localised and resilient supply chains – something that may become increasingly important post-COVID-19.

BASF is partnered with Imperial on several flow chemistry projects at Imperial’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Next Generation Synthesis & Reaction Technology, led by Professor Hii and Professor Sophia Yaliraki in the Department of Chemistry, and Professor Klaus Hellgardt in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Klaus Hellgardt, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Imperial, said: “We are excited to be working with BASF not only to advance the science and engineering, but also to train a new generation of chemists who are familiar and cognate in flow chemistry. To get modern techniques into companies you need champions, and you need to create these champions.”

Dr Simon Hepworth, Imperial’s Director of Enterprise, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with BASF, one of the world’s leading chemicals companies. Through this partnership, we are not only applying our expertise to their business challenges, but also working with them to bring important benefits to the chemical sector, the UK economy and ultimately to wider society.”

This article is part of an Imperial News Story