Jean-Christophe Monbaliu receives a WEL-T Advanced Grant for his research in the field of micro/mesofluidic organic chemistry.



Jean-Christophe Monbaliu, Professor of Organic Chemistry and Director of the Center for Integrated Technology and Organic Synthesis (CiTOS) at the Faculty of Sciences of ULiège (MolSys Research Unit), has been awarded a WEL-T Advanced Grant for his project entitled "Intelligent Flow Systems for Advanced Chemical Manufacturing." The project ambitions to develop new efficient processes for drug production while minimizing their environmental footprint.

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rganic Chemistry has always played a crucial role throughout the history of humanity. The successive revolutions may have replaced flasks and alembics with robots and automation, yet organic chemists remain at the heart of innovation. Their imagination has expanded toward new horizons, stimulating new ways to access molecular architectures and address emerging needs. Despite numerous iterations and disruptive advancements, a pragmatic reality persists: the development of new synthesis pathways is time-consuming and associated with detrimental environmental impact. Therefore, a new approach is necessary.

“Micro/mesofluidic technology represents a significant paradigm shift for organic chemistry, marking a momentous revolution in its modern history. These miniaturized reactors are endowed with inherent properties that confer strategic advantages, facilitating enhanced efficiency, rationality, and safety in chemical processes. However, despite the compelling need to modernize existing methodologies, the widespread adoption of fluidic technology has been relatively slow," explains Jean-Christophe Monbaliu, Professor of Organic Chemistry and Director of the CiTOS Laboratory (MolSys Research Unit/Faculty of Sciences) at ULiège. One underlying deterrent arises from the innovative nature of these technologies, which may initially appear counterintuitive. "Most of the available experimental data still predominantly relates to conventional and aging technologies, rendering their reinterpretation and transposition to fluidic reactors cumbersome, says Jean-Christophe Monbaliu, specifically given the profound disparities in their spatio-temporal characteristics”. Consequently, despite the emergence of guided experimental approaches and experimental designs, a persistent reliance on a trial-and-error methodology remains prevalent. In any case, the combination of technical, economic, and environmental constraints offsets the advantages offered by micro/mesofluidic reactors.

By combining the advantages of micro/mesofluidic reactors with thorough a priori knowledge on reactions, an innovative solution is proposed here. Building upon the most recent achieved within the framework his F.R.S-FNRS incentive grant for research, this project integrates computational chemistry and machine learning to generate a priori knowledge of chemical reactions. "Whether the reaction relies on preexisting experimental data or not, such a priori knowledge model enables the generation of optimal reaction conditions in silico, without waste- or resource-intensive conditions," states Pauline Bianchi, F.R.S-FNRS Aspirant at CITOS and developer of an early prototype. These optimal a priori conditions are then executed within minutes by an automated flow platform. This novel concept will accelerate the adoption of micro/mesofluidic reactors and complement existing design and production methods, enhancing the flexibility and safety for supply chains. While the project is defined within a pharmaceutical context, the value chain can also be extended to all domains of organic chemistry.

Read > Continuous flow. Focus on new micro/mesofluidic process technologies

About the WEL Research Institute

The WEL Research Institute supports excellent strategic research within its departments, with a view to developing breakthrough innovations that will have an impact in the fields of health and sustainable transition.

WEL-T fellowships are funded by the WEL Research Institute (WELRI), which was set up by the Walloon Region in 2009 to support excellent strategic research in biotechnology life sciences. The WELRI offers two types of funding: WELBIO for life sciences and WEL-T for engineering sciences, chemistry and physics.

Your contact at ULiège

Jean-Christophe Monbaliu 

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