How do catalytic heaters work?

Chapman, Michael J.

Catalytic conversion is the process of breaking down complex molecules by accelerating chemical reactions. While catalysis has a variety of purposes, its typical mechanical use comes in the form of a catalytic converter, which is used in stoves, heaters and cars to minimise the output of toxic substances.

Heating element

Typical catalytic heaters involve a few primary components, the most integral being the heating surface. With most catalytic heaters, a thin plate of platinum is the active component for accelerating chemical reaction. This platinum plate is electrically heated to more than 148 degrees C (300 degrees F). This surface, when evenly heated, will be the site of reactions that produce more energy in the form of heat.

Gas dispersal

Propane gas is released once a threshold temperature is reached. A switch within the system senses when the platinum surface has been evenly heated, and then allows for the even dispersal of gas. At the same time, air from outside the catalytic converter is also diffused through the heater surface to mix with the propane gas.

Heat with no flame

The propane gas quickly breaks down on the surface of the heated platinum pad. This chemical reaction's primary byproduct is additional heat energy, producing temperatures between 204 and 510 degrees C (400 and 950 degrees F). This makes the catalytic heater ideal to heat small areas efficiently. Because the heat is the product of a chemical reaction, there is no mechanical element other than the priming heat.


Catalytic heaters produce a number of minor byproducts that necessitate ventilation. While a variety of chemicals are produced by heating propane, catalytic conversion breaks it down into carbon dioxide, which has no standard simpler form. More rare is the production of carbon monoxide. When the platinum surface has been contaminated or has been unevenly heated, carbon monoxide development is possible.