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14 April 2022
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What is a Pellistor (Catalytic Beads)? 
Georgia Pratt
Marketing Executive

Pellistor sensors consist of two matched wire coils, each embedded in a ceramic bead. Current is passed through the coils, heating the beads to approximately 230˚C. The bead becomes hot from the combustion, resulting in a temperature difference between this active and the other ‘reference’ bead.  This causes a difference in resistance, which is measured; the amount of gas present is directly proportional to the resistance change, so gas concentration as a percentage of its lower explosive limit (% LEL*) can be accurately determined. Flammable gas burns on the bead and the additional heat generated produces an increase in coil resistance which is measured by the instrument to indicate gas concentration. Pellistor sensors are widely used throughout industry including on oil rigs, at refineries, and for underground construction purposes such as mines, and tunnels. 

Benefits of Pellistor Sensors?

Pellistor sensors are relatively low in cost due to differences in the level of technology in comparison to the more complex technologies like IR sensors, however, they may be required to be replaced more frequently. With a linear output corresponding to the gas concentration, correction factors can be used to calculate the approximate response of pellistors to other flammable gases, which can make pellistors a good choice when there are multiple flammable gases and vapours present. 

Factors affecting Pellistor Sensor Life

The two main factors that shorten the sensor life include exposure to high gas concentration and poisoning or inhibition of the sensor. Extreme mechanical shock or vibration can also affect the sensor life.  

The capacity of the catalyst surface to oxidise the gas reduces when it has been poisoned or inhibited. Sensor lifetimes of up to ten years is known in some applications where inhibiting or poisoning compounds are not present. Higher power pellistors have larger beads, hence more catalyst, and that greater catalytic activity ensures less vulnerability to poisoning. More porous beads allow easier access of the gas to more catalyst allowing greater catalytic activity from a surface volume instead of just a surface area. Skilled initial design and sophisticated manufacturing processes ensure maximum bead porosity. 

Strength of the bead is also of great importance since exposure to high gas concentrations (>100% LEL) may compromise sensor integrity causing cracking. Performance is affected and often offsets in the zero/base-line signal result. Incomplete combustion results in carbon deposits on the bead: the carbon ‘grows’ in the pores and causes mechanical damage or just gets in the way of gas reaching the pellistor. The carbon may however be burned off over time to re-reveal catalytic sites.  

Extreme mechanical shock or vibration can in rare cases cause a break in the pellistor coils. This issue is more prevalent on portable rather than fixed-point gas detectors as they are more likely to be dropped, and the pellistors used are lower power (to maximise battery life) and thus use more delicate thinner wire coils. 

What happens when a Pellistor is poisoned? 

A poisoned pellistor remains electrically operational but may fail to respond to gas as it will not produce an output when exposed to flammable gas. This means a detector would not go into alarm, giving the impression that the environment is safe.  

Compounds containing silicon, lead, sulphur, and phosphates at just a few parts per million (ppm) can impair pellistor performance.  Therefore, whether it’s something in your general working environment, or something as harmless as cleaning equipment or hand cream, bringing it near to a pellistor could mean you are compromising your sensor’s effectiveness without even realising it. 

Why are silicones bad? 

Silicones have their virtues, but they may be more common than you first thought. Some examples include sealants, adhesives, lubricants, and thermal and electrical insulation. Silicones, have the ability to poison a sensor on a pellistor at extremely low levels, because they act cumulatively a bit at a time.  

Products  

Our portable products all use low power portables pellistor beads. This prolongs battery life but can make them prone to poisoning. Which is why we offer alternatives that do not poison, such as the IR and MPS sensors. Our fixed products use a porous high energy fixed pellistor. 

To explore more, visit our technical page for more information.

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