The Influence of Residence Time Distribution on Continuous Flow Polymerization
Continuous-flow chemistry is emerging as an enabling technology for the synthesis of precise polymers. Despite recent advances in this rapidly growing field, there remains a need for a fundamental understanding of how fluid dynamics in tubular reactors influence polymerizations. Herein, we report a comprehensive study of how laminar flow influences polymer structure and composition. Tracer experiments coupled with in-line UV-vis spectroscopy demonstrate how viscosity, tubing diameter, and reaction time affect the residence time distribution (RTD) of fluid in reactor geometries relevant for continuous-flow polymerizations. We found that the breadth of the RTD has strong, statistical correlations with reaction conversion, polymer molar mass, and dispersity for polymerizations conducted in continuous flow. These correlations were demonstrated to be general to a variety of different reaction conditions, monomers, and polymerization mechanisms. Additionally, these findings inspired the design of a droplet flow reactor that minimizes the RTD in continuous-flow polymerizations and enables the continuous production of well-defined polymer at a rate of 1.4 kg/day.