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Southwest Research Institute expands FOCAS® technologies for automotive exhaust catalyst aging

July 19, 2007 — Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has expanded its FOCAS technology to include a FOCAS Hot Gas Test Rig (HGTR®) along with its original gasoline burner-based catalyst aging system.

Catalytic converters became a part of the vehicle exhaust system in the mid-1970s to meet emission regulations mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since the introduction of the three-way catalyst, engineers and scientists have worked to optimize the performance and durability of these devices to meet increasingly stringent emissions and durability standards. Vehicle manufacturers are required by the EPA to demonstrate that catalyst systems meet the emissions regulations for the useful life of the vehicle on which it is used.

When conducting emission testing of new vehicle models, manufacturers use catalysts that have been operated or "aged" for a period that simulates the vehicle's useful life. The classic approach to aging uses an engine bench stand to accelerate the aging of the catalyst. FOCAS offers a method of aging the catalyst that is much faster and more precise than an engine-based approach.

Unlike engine-based aging, where oil consumption is inherent in engine operation and changes with engine wear, the FOCAS system consumes no oil during fuel-air combustion. Lube oil can be injected into the hot combustion products with a metering and measurement system. Because burning oil decreases the efficiency of a catalyst system, this process allows the user to age catalysts with or without oil poisoning effects.

FOCAS uses a gasoline-fueled burner with an integrated, computerized control system to age catalytic converters. The flow of exhaust gas from an engine can be simulated under a variety of load conditions, allowing full-sized automotive catalyst systems to be rapidly aged. The system is capable of producing exhaust gas at elevated temperatures for extended periods.

"The FOCAS burner-based catalyst-aging system can produce much higher exhaust temperatures than an engine, allowing catalyst aging time to be significantly reduced, saving automotive manufacturers time and money," said Cynthia Webb, a principal engineer in SwRI's Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division.

"FOCAS has several advantages compared to engine aging including lower maintenance, higher efficiency for potential fuel savings, fewer moving parts for reduced mechanical wear; a power fault protection for operation during inclement weather, wide-range lambda operation and control window, and operation with or without lubricating oil."

In addition to FOCAS, the FOCAS HGTR is a high-flow, diesel-fueled burner-based catalyst aging system that expands on the capabilities of SwRI's FOCAS aging system. SwRI designed the hot gas test rig to accommodate full-sized catalyst systems and provide user-designed programmable aging cycles, allowing users to create aging cycles to meet specific needs.

As an independent, multidisciplinary research and development organization, SwRI offers an unbiased, third-party perspective. The Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division has achieved certification to ISO 9001, an internationally recognized quality standard, and ISO 14001, an environmental management system standard. In addition, SwRI has the expertise to perform combustion visualization, detailed airflow analysis, combustion bomb evaluations, and competitive engine and vehicle benchmarking. The division also develops specialized instruments, control systems, test apparatus and data acquisition systems to help achieve engine and vehicle performance and emissions goals.

For more information about FOCAS, visit focas.swri.org. FOCAS systems are available for purchase with or without the optional lube oil injection system. SwRI can provide FOCAS training at SwRI or at a client's facility. In addition, FOCAS systems are available for contract catalyst aging at SwRI.

For more information, contact Rob Leibold at +1 210 522 2258, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.