Bosch, together with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the chemicals company BASF, has successfully produced the first-ever 3D printed microreactor made using technical ceramics. Microreactors are devices for housing chemical reactions, and in terms of heat, stability, and corrosion, few materials can withstand the extreme conditions caused by these high-temperature chemical reactions.
“To control and monitor a chemical reaction, a reactor needs to have hardness, heat resistance, and complex structures inside,” said Klaus Prosiegel, sales manager at the Bosch startup, Advanced Ceramics, based in southern Germany. “3D printed technical ceramics bring these excellent properties to the table.”
Bosch Advanced Ceramics is part of ‘grow’, Bosch’s in-house startup platform. With locations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, India, China, Japan, North America, and South America, grow is the global home for startups within the technology company. Worldwide, the startup platform currently has ten projects in the incubation phase.
Technical ceramics are in demand in a wide range of industries, including in medicine, where it is used in bipolar scissors, which can cut tissue and stop bleeding at the same time. The electric current flowing through the two metallic halves of the scissors heats the tissue, and seals it. An insulator made of technical ceramics ensures that the two metallic blades do not cause a short circuit when the scissors are closed – making surgery faster and safer.
In energy technology, the extreme heat resistance and ion conductivity of technical ceramics makes them ideal for use in fuel-cell stacks, and other applications. In mobility, distance sensors that help with parking are also made of technical ceramics. Another area of application is grinders for fully automatic coffee machines, where the material’s extreme durability and hardness ensures that the grinding effect remains the same over time, with no material abrasion that could affect the taste of the coffee. “We have products on the market in all these areas,” said Prosiegel.
Bosch Advanced Ceramics was aware that technical ceramics are also very well suited for chemical reactions. “The challenge, however, was to find a process that was capable of producing the complex structures inside a ceramic reactor,” said Prosiegel. To solve this task, the startup’s team of ten combined two of the company’s core competencies – technical ceramics and 3D printing. “We’ve successfully employed 3D printing to produce ceramic components that can’t be made by conventional means,” said Prosiegel.
BASF is now using this microreactor for basic research applications – since it allows for the monitoring of chemical reactions under ideal temperature conditions. Furthermore, it requires fewer raw materials, and less energy, compared to large reactors. Experts are able to analyze these small-scale results and extrapolate them for large-scale implementation. “This is just like a chef trying out a new recipe on a small scale first before putting the dish on the menu,” said Prosiegel.
The next step is to 3D print 10 – 20 more microreactors, with the same design, for BASF. Prosiegel predicts a promising future for technical ceramics – considering the conceivable further potential applications in the chemicals sector. “After all, almost every laboratory crucible is made of technical ceramics.”