Welder Sue Seibel reviews product specifications of the new catalyst testing system with Mark Ruff, right, president of Catalytic Combustion Corp., and John Robinson Jr., catalyst group vice president. The system helps users determine if they can re-use their catalysts.

A company that develops systems to destroy industrial VOCs has introduced what it says is the first non-destructive catalytic activity tester for used catalysts. Catalytic Combustion Corp., Bloomer, Wis., says its Activity Value Test System is important because the loss of catalytic activity hampers an element's ability to control emissions from stationary industrial engines and has previously been difficult to assess.

CCC developed the test process in response to industrial catalyst users wanting to know whether washed catalysts were worth reinstalling or if they should be replaced. The AVTS technology delivers the necessary data for catalyst users to make that decision, the company says.

The AVTS unit is engineered to provide a repeatable set of temperature and flow conditions similar to those a catalyst sees in the field. It gauges the activity level by introducing to the catalyst a standard reference compound found in a gas engine's exhaust.

Catalysts are manufactured using precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, so the cost of the elements can be relatively high. Over time, every catalyst accumulates debris that blocks the flow to the precious metal locations. This decreases the overall performance of the catalyst and requires that the element be removed and cleaned, or replaced.

Chemical washing to extend the lifespan of catalysts that have become dirty during normal operation is an economically sound practice and is often a viable option to that of buying new elements. However, there are circumstances in which washing cannot restore sufficient activity to bring an engine into compliance.

"Not knowing if the washing process has improved a catalyst often puts catalyst users in a roll-the-dice position when it comes to having to decide whether or not to reinstall it," says John Robinson, vice president of CCC's Catalyst Division and the engineer who led the development of the AVTS. "And while no one wants to prematurely replace a catalyst that has useful life remaining, the cost of doing so pales in comparison to the expenses associated with lost production time, field maintenance costs and/or the potential fines associated with failed emissions compliance.”

Several sections of a catalyst element are spot-tested to evaluate its overall catalytic activity condition. The data gathered is used to calculate a numerical score called the Activity Value Index, which reflects the health of the catalyst element.

The AVTS and AVI scoring systems were developed to be "color blind," meaning all catalysts are evaluated on an equal basis without indication as to which manufacturer’s catalyst is being evaluated.

"Up until now, a washed catalyst element being returned from a washing station was simply that, a washed catalyst, and users had repeatedly expressed their frustration to us at not knowing if the washed catalyst would perform as expected,” Robinson says. “With this AVTS tool, the user can get a test report showing the element's relative level of catalytic activity upon arrival at the washing station, and whether the cleaning process yielded any improvement after the washing."

The testing system will work for any catalyst being produced for industrial engines, according to the company. The system provides AVI results for both three-way and oxidation catalysts.

The system “is not intended to be a re-creation of the conditions the catalyst sees in service,” Robinson says. “Nor is AVI a prediction of field performance. The goal of the AVTS/AVI combination is to give users the confidence to decide if a catalyst is worth putting back into service."

The first AVTS unit is operating at CCC’s own facility, with a second one in the works at its affiliated five-step certified catalyst cleaning station at Western Filter Co. in Longview, Texas. Some catalyst users have previewed the tester in operation.

"Personally, I see a catalyst-testing unit at a washing station to be comparable to a car-battery tester at the local auto parts store,” says Jason Beagle, emissions field supervisor for Mid-Con Compression, a compressor-equipment maker headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla. “It can be an invaluable tool for helping make the right decisions. You don't want to put a bad product back into a machine, so having test data about a used catalyst is a big deal. Determining if there's a problem with a product before reinstallation can save time and money."

Catalyst testing is provided at a cost of $50 per test spot, with three to six spots being checked. The cost compares to the expense of a few hundred dollars for washing services and potentially several thousand dollars for purchasing a new element, CCC says.

"I'd welcome the opportunity to know if a used catalyst is worth washing before spending the money to clean it," says Mark Davis, technical services engineer at J-W Energy Co. also in Longview. "And as far as washed catalysts go, up to this point it has always been a hit or miss as to what we get. All we've been able to do until now is make a visual inspection and hope for the best.”

Additional CCC washing stations are expected to be in service in the coming months in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming.