Esterification reactions are commonly used in industrial practice. These reactions are fast and moderately exothermic thus they are prone to exhibit a runaway behavior, that is a thermal loss of control of the synthesis reactor. This scenario may lead to either quality issues, such as formation of undesired side products, or safety concerns, as pressurization and rupture of the reactor itself.
To mitigate the risk, proper recipes should be designed and optimized for a safe conduction of the reaction at the full-plant scale. This can be done by knowing the kinetics of the involved reactions, both desired and undesired.
The aim of this work is to determine the kinetic parameters of the esterification of acetic anhydride with methanol (forming methyl acetate) in the presence of sulfuric acid as a catalyst to be used in a cost-effective safe optimization protocol. This reaction has been analyzed in the past because of its exothermicity, but without fully describing the involved reactions (both desired and side).
In this work, calorimetric measurements are used to observe both the thermic and quality characteristics of the overall synthesis run in a semi-batch, lab-scale reactor. Both a detailed kinetic scheme and the associated parameters are determined to provide safe and productive operating conditions for the process, properly considering all the side reactions than could emerge during the synthesis. The study also required the implementation of a dedicated mathematical model for the simulation of the lab-scale semi-continuous reactor.