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SwRI opens ECTO-Lab for quick, cost-effective qualification of catalysts, emission control products

Southwest Research Institute recently opened a new fully automated, multi-fuel burner facility designed to rapidly and cost-effectively age and evaluate exhaust catalyst equipment for a wide range of engines. The Exhaust Component Transient Operation Laboratory (ECTO-Lab) uses SwRI-developed modular technology that is also available for purchase and installation at client facilities.

The ECTO-Lab can simulate lean and stoichiometric exhaust gas conditions utilizing gasoline, diesel, natural gas, or propane fuels. It accommodates full-sized catalysts from light-duty gasoline engines to large, heavy-duty diesel and natural gas engines, said Assistant Director Dr. Cary Henry, who oversees SwRI’s catalyst and aftertreatment research and development activities.

The current ECTO-Lab technology offers an expanded flow range of up to 3,250 kg/h, allowing SwRI even to simulate exhaust from large stationary engines.

Aftertreatment equipment processes exhaust emissions to remove potentially harmful gases and particulates to help engines meet increasingly strict regulations. These include catalytic converters common on gasoline vehicles as well as diesel oxidation catalysts, diesel particulate filters, selective catalytic reduction catalysts and ammonia slip components. The ECTO-Lab facility assesses the performance and durability of these products in service.

Traditionally, these tests have been conducted on engine test stands, but increasingly complex emission control systems compound design and evaluation efforts. SwRI says that its burner-based approach can safely and efficiently simulate the exhaust gas conditions for a variety of internal combustion engines, streamlining the evaluation of catalyst components and emission control systems and saving clients time and money. SwRI has also improved system controls, allowing precise control of low exhaust flow rates. 

The exhaust gas conditions are generated through independent, model-based control and allow any combination of flow, temperature, NOx, THC, H20, and O2 concentration within its window of operation. The system is capable of replicating the exhaust gas profiles for engines from 1.5 L to 30 L.

ECTO-Lab provides additional features to replicate field aged components. To do so, an oil- and sulfur-dosing system is utilized to promote chemical poisoning exposure to aftertreatment components. This provides the end user with valuable information to understand field component aging under specialized cycle operation.

For light-duty applications, the sulfur-dosing system can also be used to evaluate Lean NOX Trap (LNT) performance for engine De-SOX strategies. Coupled with the NOx control system, complete LNT testing can be executed, which also includes the De-NOx stage.

Burner systems use less fuel, making them a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative. The modular structure allows components to be added to the base combustor and water-to-air-heat exchanger to simulate stoichiometric or lean-burn multi-fuel engines. We can also replicate full transient exhaust traces for these engine applications.

—Cary Henry

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