With the advancement in chemistry industry, it is more realized that the design and construction of individualized, configurable devices for the exploration of chemical production units could strongly benefit from the options of current 3D printing techniques. Generally, 3D printing has evolved and is continually finding increasing roles in scientific research contexts such as in chemical synthesis and chemical engineering. As such, an attempt has been made to employ 3D printing in the processes of continuous polymerizations. The most promising so far is in the fused deposition modelling 3D printers for the fabrication of reactors. They involve extrusion of thermoplastic material through a high temperature nozzle to build a 3D object layer-by-layer. Nonetheless, no work has been published to confirm such an enviable process nor its practicality in chemistry related developments.
University of Hamburg researchers demonstrated how the design, the 3D printing and the characteristics of the resulting tubular bended reactor, present a viable alternative for performing continuous emulsion polymerizations. Their work is currently published in Chemical Engineering Journal.
The research method employed commenced with the integration of a polylactic acid tubular bended reactor, printed by fused deposition modeling with a short and narrow residence time distribution, air-cooled, and with dead volumes below 5%, into a modular reaction system enabling product changes in the running system. Next, continuous, redox-initiated emulsion co-polymerizations of styrene – butyl acrylate and of vinyl acetate – neodecanoic acid vinyl ester were successfully performed with 20 and 40 wt% monomer in the feed.
The authors observed that the integration of the 3D-printed tubular bended reactor into the modular reaction plant allowed the reproducible preparation of uniform copolymer particles at various solid contents as well as polymer product changes in the same 3D printed reactor while running. In addition, they noted that no fouling, clogging or deformation of the 3D-printed reactor was observed. Moreover, the option of thermal imaging was seen to allow for visualization of the polymerization processes.
In a nutshell, the study presented a detailed demonstration of the viability and versatility, and indicated the configurability of 3D printing a tubular bended reactor for carrying out emulsion co-polymerizations. In general, the filament used for the fabrication of the device was inexpensive and provided a suitable inert material for the reactions performed. To sum it all, the robust and applicable tubular bended reactor was noted to have a short and narrow residence time distribution, small dead volumes and suitable flow characteristics for emulsion copolymerization processes. Altogether, the approach demonstrated here is as versatile as the software used for generating the reactor and limited only by the characteristic constraints of a 3D printer.
Sven Bettermann, Baldur Schroeter, Hans-Ulrich Moritz, Werner Pauer, Marcel Fassbender, Gerrit A. Luinstra. Continuous emulsion copolymerization processes at mild conditions in a 3D-printed tubular bended reactor. Chemical Engineering Journal 338 (2018) 311–322.Go To Chemical Engineering Journal