Gallium and other metals that are liquid at room temperature can be valuable materials for designing equipment essential for the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors. Use of these metals could lead to the elimination of moving parts in continuous flow reactors and provide improved performance and reduced maintenance costs.

The core components of such reactors are typically based on moving parts, which can be fouled, blocked and broken via precipitation of materials, undermining system productivity and longevity. Replacing traditional mechanical pumps and moving parts with soft, durable liquid metal components offers potential to improve continuous flow reactor design and efficiency. The flow formed around the liquid metal reactive core when an external voltage is applied obviates requirement for moving parts and relies instead on surface tension to effect pumping of the flow. The active surface of the liquid metal also serves to facilitate chemical reactions.

A liquid metal droplet as the core of a continuous flow reactor for both chemical reaction and mass transport. Source: DOI: 10.1016/Matter 2021.10.022A liquid metal droplet as the core of a continuous flow reactor for both chemical reaction and mass transport. Source: DOI: 10.1016/Matter 2021.10.022

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (Australia), Queensland University of Technology (Australia), University of California Los Angeles and RMIT University (Australia) introduced three different model examples into a demonstration reactor to produce manganese oxide, molybdenum sulfide and graphene functional materials. The system showed versatile capabilities for generating materials with tunable system performance and controlled material quality.

The proof-of-concept continuous flow reactor described in Matter is enabled by a single droplet of liquid gallium.

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