Swiss Chemical Company Uses 3D Printing for Catalyst R&D, Seeks to Expand North American Footprint

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According to reports released by Research & Markets, North America has been at the forefront of the 3D printing industry, which makes sense, considering that the first 3D printer was created in the US by 3D Systems founder Chuck Hull. We’ve been seeing a lot of big-name companies focusing on expansion into North America, from the creation of Farsoon Americas to Renishaw’s new North American headquarters near Chicago. Wacker Chemie introduced its ACEO technology to the North American market at the IDTechEx Show, Dassault Systèmes will open its North American 3DEXPERIENCE Lab later this year, and BeAM Machines SAS recently opened its BeAM Machines, Inc. subsidiary in Ohio. Specialty chemicals company Clariant, based in Switzerland, views North America as prime real estate for growth and investment.

“We had been underrepresented in North America for years, but this year, we will have neutralised that with sales in the region in the 22% range,” said Ken Golder, president and CEO of Clariant Corp, and head of the North American region. “Yet we are not satisfied with neutral, and see continued investment in the region.”

Clariant’s main focus is catalysts, which are made from ceramics and metals, and can be made to resemble objects like honeycombs, gears, wheels, flora designs, pasta shapes, and even Tinker Toy blocks. Its catalyst market areas include:

  • Petrochemical and Refining Catalysts
  • Synthesis Gas (Syngas) Catalysts
  • Chemical Catalysts
  • Emissions Control Catalysts
  • Zeolite Powders
  • Custom Catalysts

The company’s catalysts business spends roughly 7% of its annual sales on research and development, with over 300 of its 1,500 employees working in this function. Stefan Heuser, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Catalysts, said that most catalyst companies spend around 4-5% of sales on R&D, while chemical companies only spend 1.5-3%, so it’s no wonder that Clariant is one of the leading chemical companies. Clariant uses 3D printing in both the testing and R&D areas, and plans to increase use of the technology in testing, with the goal being the eventual production of catalysts, in order to shorten the amount of time it takes to conventionally manufacture them through tableting, pelletizing, and extruding.

Marvin Estenfelder, Head of R&D at Clariant’s Catalysts business unit, said, “3D printing provides exciting opportunities for catalysis R&D as the geometric shape of a catalyst has a major impact on its performance.”

He noted as well that, while most 3D printers are more known for using plastics, it’s not a huge stretch to adapt them to using ceramics and metal.

Clariant currently creates small amounts of catalysts using high throughput screening (HTS), impregnation coating techniques, and 3D printing. The technology could also be used at the nanoscale level for “pore engineering,” which would allow designers to build pores in the optimal position in the catalysts. But Estenfelder says that 3D printing production of catalysts in commercial quantities is still not feasible.

“We are far away from commercial operations,” explained Estenfelder. “Today it is more a tool in the lab.”

Clariant completed expansion of its ethoxylates plant in Clear Lake, Texas in Q1 2016

Until then, Clariant is busy expanding its footprint in North America. Last year, the company completed some major acquisitions and capital investments, and its North American sales have grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 4.3% since 2011, reaching $1.1 billion in 2016. It acquired North American oil services companies Kel-Tech and X-Chem, and mining services company Flomin, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new polypropylene catalyst plant in Kentucky, and commissioned its new ethylene oxide derivatives expansion in Texas. It also recently introduced two new catalysts: PolyMax 850, which converts olefins from fluid catalytic cracking into high octane gasoline and higher olefins, and ReforMax LDP Plus, which is used to produce syngas from methane. Discuss in the Clariant forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: ICIS Chemical Business]

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