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Process Intensification through Adaptable Catalytic Reactors made by 3D Printing

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PRINTCR3DIT (Process Intensification through Adaptable Catalytic Reactors made by 3D Printing)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-09-30

Catalytic reactors account for production of 90% of chemicals we use in everyday life. To achieve the decarbonisation of European economy and comply with the 20-20-20 target, resource utilization and energy efficiency will play a major role in all industrial processes.
The concept of PRINTCR3DIT is to employ 3D printing to boost process intensification in the chemical industries by adapting reactors and structured catalysts to the requirements of the reaction. This manufacturing technique is particularly useful in reactions where diffusion, mixing and/or heat transfer are limitations against reaching higher performance. The utilization of the concept of 3D printing will also reduce the resource utilization of reactor and catalyst manufacture, energy consumed (< 15%) and transportation.
The rationale of using 3D printing will follow a generic and systematic structure for implementation.
The methodology will be applied to three markets of fine chemicals, specialty chemicals and fertilizers, ranging from few tons to millions of tons of production per year. This demonstrates the enormous versatility of 3D printing for reactor and catalyst designs that cannot be improved with traditional building and design tools. For all these processes, the challenges to be solved are thermal management, innovative reactor design and flow distribution. These examples will provide realistic data in different markets to delineate business case scenarios with the options of new integrated plants or retrofitting for large-scale applications.
Application of cutting-edge 3D printing to catalytic reactors will foster higher productivity, a more competitive industrial sector and higher value jobs in Europe - keeping leadership in such a challenging arena. PRINTCR3DIT is a joint effort between world-leading industries (4), innovative SMEs (4), R&D institutes (4) and a university that aim to accelerate deployment of a set of products to the market.
The partners have developed knowledge in the development of novel structured catalysts for hydrogenation and oxidation reactions where heat transfer, selectivity and pressure drop and important issues. Two patent applications were filled regarding the effect that novel shapes of internals have in improving the overall reactor performance.
Partners have developed the adequate mixtures to obtain 3D printed SiC supports and also made different intricated shapes in aluminium and stainless steel to determine the accuracy of the different methods. The mechanical resistance of some aluminium printouts was also evaluated.
We have also identified the active phase catalysts that will be used for the different applications. The three different reactions targeted in the project (squalene hydrogenation, nitrile ester hydrogenation and oxidation of nitrogen monoxide) were tested in the different demonstrators of the project. Two modular demonstrators were built and tested during the project.
Based on the different results of the reactions, the partners managed to draft a plan for future exploitation of results with very comprehensive possibilities. The results obtained in this project probed already that the knowledge acquired is extensible to other areas.
Regarding dissemination, PRINTCR3DIT has innovated in two different aspects. We have launched two different contests for designing a 3D printed reactor with winners from Czech Republic and Croatia. The idea of interacting with students was also implemented in universities showing the principles of 3D printing to over 200 students. Moreover, we have organized the first Summer school of 3D printed applied to chemical industries. A dissemination event and a public visit to one of the demonstrators was also done.
There are two main already established advanced in the project.
1. We have managed to generate iso-reticular foams based on a well-defined mathematical methodology. The potential impact of this methodology is that eventually the porosity of catalysts can now be designed instead of obtained or partially control it with experimental methods. It can affect a large part of the chemical industry.
2. we have determined good catalyst that are candidates for continuous reactions of the three different systems. This is very important and was time consuming provided that the catalysts used nowadays are different than the ones selected. In the case of NO oxidation, there is no catalyst and it was not possible to find reaction data in literature so all data collected at high NO concentration with high amounts of water is also novel. Also the data collected for hydrogenation of unsaturated nitrile ester cannot be found in literature and is thus a clear advance of the project.

We have also started teaching some students in chemical engineering that the limitations to design chemical engineering reactors might be coming to an end. This is a very important change in mindset but is essential to have prepared and skilled professionals in order to fully deploy all the benefits of such new technique.