Advanced Ceramics, a Bosch startup, collaborated with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the chemicals company BASF to create the world’s first 3D printed ceramic microreactor. For the process, the team used technical ceramics.
Microreactors are containers for chemical reactions. Few materials, other than ceramics, can withstand the extreme conditions caused by high-temperature chemical reactions in terms of heat, stability, and corrosion.
“To control and monitor a chemical reaction, a reactor needs to have hardness, heat resistance, and complex structures inside. 3D printed technical ceramics bring these excellent properties to the table.”– Klaus Prosiegel, sales manager at the Bosch Startup Advanced Ceramics
Many applications for technical ceramics
The market research company Data Bridge forecasts that the global market for technical ceramics will be worth around 16 billion euros by 2029. This versatile material is in demand in a wide range of industries:
- In medicine, it is used in bipolar scissors, which can cut tissue while also stopping bleeding. The tissue is heated and sealed by an electric current flowing through the two metallic halves of the scissors. When the scissors are closed, an insulator made of technical ceramics ensures that the two metallic blades do not cause a short circuit. This makes surgery more efficient and safer.
- Technical ceramics’ extreme heat resistance and ion conductivity make them ideal for use in fuel-cell stacks, among other applications, in energy technology.
- In mobility, distance sensors that aid in parking are also made of technical ceramics.
- Grinders for fully automatic coffee machines are another application. The material’s extreme durability and hardness ensure that the grinding effect remains consistent over time, with no material abrasion that could affect the coffee’s taste.
3D Printed Ceramic Microreactor
Bosch Advanced Ceramics was well aware that technical ceramics are also very well suited for chemical reactions. According to Prosiegel, the challenge was to find a process that was capable of producing the complex structures inside a ceramic reactor.
And to solve this task, the Advanced Ceramics team collaborated combined their company’s two core competencies: technical ceramics and 3D printing.
Prosiegel added, “We’ve successfully employed 3D printing to produce ceramic components that can’t be made by conventional means.”
BASF uses this microreactor in basic research to monitor chemical reactions at ideal temperatures. Large reactors require more raw materials and energy. Experts can extrapolate small-scale results for large-scale use. Prosiegel compares it to a chef testing a new recipe on a small scale before adding it to the menu. Next, BASF will print 10 to 20 similar reactors. Prosiegel sees a bright future for technical ceramics in the chemicals sector.
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