Continuous Stirred Tank Reactors - CSTR

Continuous stirred tank reactors (CSTR) are the most basic of the continuous reactors used in chemical processes. The CSTR below is a half pipe coil jacketed reactor.

(Copyright Central Fabricators, Cincinnati, OH)

General Information

Continuous stirred-tank reactors (CSTRs) are open systems, where material is free to enter or exit the system, that operate on a steady-state basis, where the conditions in the reactor don't change with time. Reactants are continuously introduced into the reactor, while products are continuously removed.

CSTRs are very well mixed, so the contents have relatively uniform properties such as temperature, density, etc. throughout. Also, conditions in the reactor's exit stream are the same as those inside the tank. Pictured below is a CSTR that has yet to be fitted with a stirring system.

(Copyright American Alloy Fabricators, Inc., Norristown, PA)

Systems connecting several CSTRs are used when the reaction is too slow. Multiple CSTRs can also be used when two immiscible liquids or viscous liquids are present and require a high agitation rate.

Equipment Design

The movie below shows the operation of a CSTR. Reactants are fed continuously into the reactor through ports at the top. The contents of the tank are well mixed by the unit's stirring device. Products are removed continuously.

CSTRs consist of a tank, usually of constant volume, and a stirring system to mix reactants together. Also, feed and exit pipes are present to introduce reactants and remove products. Pictured below is a CSTR that has had a portion of its side removed to show the interior.

(Copyright Pfaudler Inc., Rochester, NY)

Stirring blades, also called agitators, are used to mix the reactants. Below are pictures of various agitators that could be used inside a CSTR.

(Copyright DCI, Inc., St. Cloud, MN)

A CSTR can also function as a loop reactor when a heated, pressurized fluid is injected into the system to facilitate the stirring. This allows for higher heat and mass transfer rates while simplifying maintenance because there is no agitator.

The picture below is of a cell culture reactor. An initial amount of cells are placed in the fibrous-bed basket. A nutrient rich medium is continuously fed into the reactor, and products are harvested. As the cells grow, they produce by-products, which are continuously removed from the reactor. The reactor below uses a pitched-blade impeller to continuously mix the reactants.

(Copyright New Brunswick Scientific, Edison, NJ)

The picture below is of a typical fermentor. Reactants are placed inside the reactor continuously and are agitated by the reactors stirring device. Over time the reactants are broken down and products are continuously removed from the reactor.

Copyright New Brunswick Scientific, Edison, NJ)

Usage Examples

Continuous stirred-tank reactors are most commonly used in industrial processing, primarily in homogeneous liquid-phase flow reactions, where constant agitation is required. They may be used by themselves, in series, or in a battery. CSTR are also used in the pharmaceutical industry as a loop reactor.

A dimple jacketed pressure vessel is shown in the picture on the left, and a half pipe coil jacket reactor is on the right.

(Copyright Central Fabricators, Cincinnati, OH)

CSTRs, like the one below, are often used in biological processes, such as cell cultures. The CSTR shown below can be used for high-density animal cell culture in research or production. The vessels used are for single use.

(Copyright New Brunswick Scientific, Edison, NJ)

Fermentors are CSTRs used in biological processes in many industries, such as brewing, antibiotics, and waste treatment. In fermentors, large molecules are broken down into smaller molecules, with alcohol produced as a by-product. The industrial fermentor on the left has a capacity of 500 L, while the one on the right holds 3.0 L.

(Pictures copyright New Brunswick Scientific, Edison, NJ)



  • Good temperature control is easily maintained
  • Cheap to construct
  • Reactor has large heat capacity
  • Interior of reactor is easily accessed
  • Conversion of reactant to product per volume of reactor is small compared to other flow reactors


American Alloy Fabricators, Inc. , Norristown, PA

Central Fabricators , Cincinnati, OH

DCI, Inc. , St. Cloud, MN

New Brunswick Scientific , Edison, NJ

Pfaudler, Inc. , Rochester, NY


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Hill, Charles G., Jr. An Introduction to Chemical Engineering Kinetics and Reactor Design .      New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1977. Print.

Perry, Robert H., and Don W. Green. Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook . 7th ed. New      York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1997: 7-17 - 7-19. Print.

Trambouze, Pierre, Van Landeghem, Hugo, and Wauquier, Jean-Pierre. Chemical Reactors .      Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1988. Print.

Walas, Stanley M. Chemical Process Equipment: Selection and Design . Boston: Butterworth-      Heinemann, 1990. Print.

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