Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab have developed a way to print catalysts and catalyst supports with unprecedented control over the structure at multiple length scales. Digital Light Processing (DLP) printing is used to fabricate the macroscopic structure, but that is only the first step. The really exciting part is that the micro-structure of the catalyst can have up to two additional layers of smaller scale porosity based on engineered phase separation and de-alloying.
Flow-through catalysts have always suffered from a tradeoff between reactivity and pressure. A finely powdered catalyst with a high surface area can be packed into a pipe, but it will be very difficult to flow reagents through it. On the other hand, course pellets of catalyst can fill the same pipe and allow reagents to pass easily, however the surface area of catalyst material in contact with the reagents is very small and the reactor will have to be very large to achieve reasonable reactivity. Catalyst are often extruded into pellets. Some of these pellets are quite sophisticated and have interesting shapes but they can only achieve certain types of shapes. 3D printing the catalyst or catalyst support opens up a whole new world of options for monolithic catalysts and catalyst supports. Since we are using DLP printing, the resolution and throughput are both excellent and the cost is low. The internal structure of our catalysts is what really makes the difference in reactivity/volume.The high reactivity/volume of our catalysts will surpass any other system with comparable flow characteristics. Furthermore, no other catalyst system with similar reactivity/volume will come close to having the same advantageous flow characteristics as our catalysts. We have already performed a small-scale experiment with a prototype reactor with excellent results. We have developed many interesting and exciting capabilities, and now we are looking for partners who really know the heterogeneous catalyst business to help us select the best catalyst/support combinations to commercialize first and to help us make it happen.
Applications and Industries
One clear application of this technology is in catalytic converters which rely on a high surface area to achieve the reactivity needed, but cannot hinder the flow of exhaust gasses without decreasing vehicle efficiency. A catalytic converter produced using our technology will not decrease the power and efficiency of the vehicle like current converters do. This technology also permits catalytic converters to be smaller, extending their application to currently untapped markets like lawnmowers.
Liquid or gaseous reagents can be pumped through the catalyst at higher rates and at lower pressures than can be achieved with conventional catalysts because of the unique hierarchical structure. This results in energy economy and smaller reactors.
Higher volume/lower pressure flow
Printed with fast, inexpensive DLP printers
The structure can be controlled and tuned at multiple length scales
Can create metal, ceramic or plastic supports