A chemical reactor is a device which is used to contain controlled chemical reactions. Reactions take place inside the reactor, in conditions which can be monitored and controlled for safety and efficiency. These types of reactors are used in the production of chemicals such as components of pharmaceutical compounds, and they can operate in several different ways. A number of scientific specialty companies produce chemical reactors and accessories such as replacement components for damaged devices.
Chemical reactors can be designed as either tanks or pipes, depending on the needs, and they can vary in size considerably. Small benchtop chemical reactor designs are intended for use in labs, for example, while large tanks can be used to make chemicals on an industrial scale. The design also includes a variety of features which can be used to control conditions inside the reactor.
With a batch chemical reactor, the components of the reaction are added to the reactor and a controlled reaction is allowed to take place. When the reaction is finished, the batch can be removed and the reactor can be prepared for another round. This type of reactor works best when people need chemicals on a small scale, as for example when research chemists are preparing compounds for pharmaceutical research.
Continuous chemical reactors operate continuously, as long as the materials needed for the reaction are supplied. These are used to create a steady supply of a needed chemical. Continuous reactors are commonly used in the manufacture of industrial chemicals, when the need for a chemical is high and very consistent. These reactors are periodically shut down for maintenance or when they are not needed, in which case special steps may need to be taken when they are restarted so that their functionality will not be impaired.
These devices are designed by chemical engineers who are familiar with the needs of chemical reactors and the various ways in which they can be used. For special applications, an engineer may design a custom reactor which is specifically built for the purpose, in which case the engineer is also involved in the design of the space where the reactor will be used, to ensure that it conforms with safety guidelines and to confirm that the space has been properly designed to accommodate the chemical reactor.
Enterprising chemists can also build their own chemical reactors for particular projects. While there are some safety steps which need to be taken to make sure that the reactor will work safely and properly, the basics behind chemical reactor design are usually relatively simple.