Dr Lopez-Rodriguez is working as a Research Fellow for the School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering at UCD. He is currently working on the design of novel process equipment for the production and purification of pharmaceuticals using 3D printed parts and hybrid platforms with traditionally machined parts. The process equipment developed includes separators, crystallisers and reactors in polyether ether ketone (PEEK) and stainless-steel. Rafael did his PhD in the School of Chemical and Analytical Science at the University of Manchester, investigating a monoethylene glycol (MEG) reclamation process in a pilot scale plant for natural gas applications and developing a laboratory scale MEG reclamation unit.
Research Interests (Lay Summary)
Since joining UCD in 2017, Rafael has been working in the design of process equipment for pharmaceutical applications using customised 3D printed parts and off-the-shelf parts. He is also interested in developing continuous process platforms and scaling them up to pilot and commercial scale. More recently, he has developed photoreactors which could use high power lights such as LEDs and lasers to increase the productivity of the chemical process. The equipment designed and built could help to create faster, cheaper and more efficient processes for the production of medicines.
Continuous production of pharmaceuticals is usually considered a safer process than batch processes. It requires several production steps, high purity of the products and it is used to perform other chemical processes that may not be suitable for larger scale batch processes. Bespoke parts with complex geometries can be built using additive manufacturing and it is possible to integrate them with the equipment used for continuous production of pharmaceuticals. This generates a better performance of the process equipment and increases the productivity of the processes. However, many solvents used in the chemical processes are not compatible with many of the common plastics used in 3D printing. Stainless steel and PEEK have good chemical compatibility with many of the solvents used in different pharmaceutical processes, but 3D printed parts in these materials are difficult to manufacture and could be very expensive.
The main focus of this research project is to develop continuous process operations for the production and purification of pharmaceuticals integrating 3D printed parts in PEEK and stainless-steel. Units of interest are reactors, photoreactors, mixers and separators. It is also desired to secure the scale-up by either developing larger units or working with parallel processes. The units developed can be integrated with off-the-shelf components to secure pilot / commercial scale production and facilitate the deployment in industrial sites.
Design for Manufacture (DfM), Process Optimisation