Flow versus batch chemistry in the safe manufacture of explosives

University of Birmingham

Declan is investigating how the field of flow chemistry can improve the production process of explosive materials.

Since the closure of explosives factories in Bridgwater, Bishopton and Waltham Abbey, the UK’s capacity to produce explosives has been severely reduced. There is now a pressing need to develop new production capacity and develop new methods that are safe and cost effective. Flow chemistry – the name given to chemical production processes that produce materials continuously, rather than in batches – offers a potential solution, making reactions safer and more reproducible through better control of reaction conditions, reducing the risks associated with manufacturing explosives. This PhD will also explore the use of microreactors in explosives production, which will lead to more environmentally friendly synthesis of explosive materials.

Another focus of Declan’s project is the exploration of novel explosives as alternatives to materials containing lead which will be phased out due to environmental legislation. These novel synthetic methods will be of value in other industries, including the development of pharmaceuticals.

Developing new approaches to explosives using continuous flow synthesis will reduce the risk, time and cost of carrying out a reaction versus the current batch processes. Gaining greater control over the synthesis can improve safety and make scaling-up easier, as well as preventing unwanted reactions, producing products with fewer contaminants.

Declan holds a first-class degree in chemistry from Birmingham University, where his work focused on the synthesis of more soluble analogues of the antiparasitic drug Niclosamide for investigations into the treatment of cancer. In his current work, Declan synthesises explosives and works with Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and InfraRed spectroscopy (IR) to characterise energetic materials.

Declan Williams lab
“I feel extremely honoured and fortunate to join the illustrious ranks of the 1851 Industrial Fellowships. It’s a great opportunity to conduct research and explore a novel technology that has a growing interest in our industry; furthering my development and understanding as a competent chemist while allowing me the opportunity to advance my career at the same time.”