Bosch Advanced Ceramics unveils the world’s first 3D-printed ceramic microreactor

Bosch Advanced Ceramics, together with chemical company BASF and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), has developed what it claims is the world’s first 3D-printed microreactor in technical ceramic material.

A microreactor is a small-scale device designed to house and facilitate chemical reactions. To withstand the often extreme conditions created by these reactions, microreactors must be stable under both high heat and corrosion conditions, but few materials offer such properties.

Bosch Advanced Ceramics has now combined its expertise in ceramic technology with additive manufacturing to enable a one-of-a-kind application. The microreactor is used by BASF in everyday research applications, allowing the company to monitor its chemical reactions under the necessary temperature conditions.

“To control and monitor a chemical reaction, a reactor must have hardness, heat resistance and complex structures inside,” says Klaus Prosiegel, sales manager at Bosch Advanced Ceramics. “3D printed technical ceramic brings these excellent properties to the table.”

Rendering of the 3D printed ceramic microreactor. Image via Bosch Advanced Ceramics.

The technical ceramics market

According to research firm Data Bridge, the global market for technical ceramics is expected to be worth approximately €16 billion by 2029. The class of materials is highly versatile and in demand across a wide variety of industries.

For example, in medicine, materials from Bosch Advanced Ceramics are used to make bipolar scissors that can cut tissue and stop bleeding simultaneously. An electric current passing through the metal of the blades heats the fabric to seal it, while the engineered ceramic acts as an insulator to prevent the metal blades from shorting out. This can make surgery both safer and faster.

Similarly, in the energy sector, the company’s engineered ceramics offer excellent thermal resistance and ionic conductivity for use in fuel cell stacks. The mobility industry also often manufactures its distance sensors from engineered ceramics, helping drivers park their cars in tight spots.

Quality monitoring of a ceramic appliance in a Bosch factory.  Photo via Bosch Advanced Ceramics.
Quality monitoring of a ceramic device. Photo via Bosch Advanced Ceramics.

A 3D printed ceramic microreactor

Amid the plethora of advanced applications, Bosch recognized that engineered ceramics could also make excellent reaction chambers. The challenge was to find a production process capable of manufacturing the complex structures needed for this particular microreactor – structures that would otherwise be impossible with traditional manufacturing.

By opting for 3D printing, the partners found that the reactor required fewer raw materials and much less energy than a large conventional reactor. BASF is now using the 3D-printed device to conduct smaller-scale experiments and extrapolate the results before moving on to larger-scale projects.

Prosiegel explains, “It’s like a chef trying out a new recipe on a small scale before putting the dish on the menu.”

As for the next steps, the partners now intend to 3D print another 10-20 reactors with the exact same design for BASF. Prosiegel also sees a bright future for technical ceramics in the chemical industry as a whole, saying that every lab crucible is technical ceramics, after all.

BASF monitors a chemical reaction inside a visual inspection machine.  Photo via Bosch Advanced Ceramics.
BASF monitors a chemical reaction inside a visual inspection machine. Photo via Bosch Advanced Ceramics.

This may be the first example of a 3D-printed ceramic microreactor, but the energy industry certainly has 3D-printed reactor components already. Just last month, an array of additively manufactured fuel components was installed at nuclear power plants across Scandinavia. Called StrongHold AM filters, the nuclear fuel debris filters were 3D printed by Westinghouse Electric Sweden and are the first of their kind to be approved for end use.

Elsewhere, the Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) recently licensed a new method of 3D printing components for nuclear reactors using refractory materials such as silicon carbide. Developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the method combines binder jetting 3D printing techniques with a chemical vapor infiltration process.

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Featured image shows BASF monitoring a chemical reaction inside a visual inspection machine. Photo via Bosch Advanced Ceramics.

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