Safely handling air-sensitive products

Experts at ReAgent have developed a nitrogen glovebox with a built-in airlock for procedures in which a chemical product would be damaged if exposed to air

The glovebox has been designed to facilitate the handling of air-sensitive or poisonous chemicals. Inert gases, namely nitrogen, are used to expel air from the box, which has enabled ReAgent to gain further insights into the possibility of handling products that require this protection.

Currently being used to pack Sicapent for a client, the glovebox comprises two chambers: a larger one to work in and a smaller chamber that acts as an airlock. Before work begins, the front panel of the larger chamber is removed so that the working environment can be established, such as setting up tools, scales, empty containers and so on.

Once set-up is complete, the front panel is replaced and made airtight against a seal. Then, the larger chamber is filled with nitrogen via an inlet valve. This pushes any air out of the box via an outlet valve. The humidity is then monitored until a level of 10% has been reached. The nitrogen flow rate through the larger chamber is then reduced.

Because all of the air has been pushed out and replaced with nitrogen, it creates a safe environment in which to handle air-sensitive chemicals. At this stage, the operator is able to use the attached gloves to complete any filling procedures, etc. Once the operation is complete, the smaller chamber is subsequently filled with nitrogen and monitored until its humidity is less than 10%. The door between the two chambers can then be opened, and the product moved into the smaller chamber. This means that the nitrogen and humidity levels in the larger chamber stay the same and the product can be safely moved.

The door between the two chambers is closed again, and the filled bottles can now safely be taken to packaging and labelling. The opposite procedure is then followed, during which new jars and product are placed in the smaller chamber before being moved to the larger one. The filling procedure can commence again, all while successfully maintaining correct nitrogen and humidity levels.

Making the glovebox

Projects and Maintenance Engineer, Phil Baillie, built the glovebox during a period of three days. It was made by cutting and sticking sheets of shatterproof, thermoplastic Perspex (polymethyl methacrylate [PMMA]) together, which means that the glovebox benefits from a sturdy and resistant design.

Expanded remit

“With our new nitrogen glovebox, we will be able to handle and package hundreds of air-sensitive chemicals in a safe, airtight environment. This will help to expand ReAgent’s reach in the chemical industry,” said Phil Baillie. “Currently, we are happy to be working with a client to handle Sicapent,” he added.

Also known as phosphorus pentoxide, Sicapent is a powerful desiccant used in a variety of applications, such as drying fast-flowing gases. Phosphorus pentoxide is sensitive to air, so must be handled in conditions that are geared towards its chemical stability. By utilising the glovebox, ReAgent is able to pack and fill Sicapent whilst ensuring maximum safety for the product. “In the future, we are hoping to develop our glovebox design so that we can eventually have the capacity to package thousands of similar air-sensitive chemicals,” noted Phil.

“Along with the glovebox, we have a wide range of production facilities and equipment at our disposal. We also offer a variety of services, as well as being an ISO accredited company. When you work with ReAgent, we guarantee high quality products and first-class customer service. Simply get in touch to find out what we can offer you today,” he concluded.

This article orginally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Manufacturing Chemist.

Companies