3D printing of PEEK reactors for flow chemistry and continuous chemical processing†
Chemically resistant parts for flow chemistry, with integrated mixing elements have been produced using the 3D printing process of fused filament fabrication, from poly(etheretherketone). Poly(etheretherketone) has greater chemical resistance than common fused filament fabrication materials such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polypropylene, or even high-performance plastics like poly(etherimide), in addition to having superior thermal resistance and excellent mechanical strength. Printed reactors were demonstrated to be suitable for liquid–liquid extraction and flow chemistry and to be capable of withstanding pressures of at least 30 bar allowing superheated solvents to be used. Burst tests in simple geometries of 20 minute duration have indicated that increased operating pressures of up to 60 bar could be accommodated in future reactor designs. The ability to use fused filament fabrication for these reactors allows highly customisable, cost effective flow reactors and equipment to be fabricated on relatively inexpensive benchtop scale printers. X-ray microcomputed tomography was utilised to non-invasively image and verify the internal structure of the prints to ensure fidelity in reactor fabrication. This non-invasive method of equipment validation shows potential in helping to demonstrate regulatory compliance for bespoke additively manufactured components, for example in continuous pharmaceutical manufacturing where the methods and printer used in this work should be sufficient to produce, (continuous) manufacturing scale equipment.