The electrons in electric-discharge CO2 lasers cause dissociation of some CO2 into O2 and CO, and attach themselves to electronegative molecules such as O2, forming negative O2 ions, as well as larger negative ion clusters by collisions with CO or other molecules. The decrease in CO2 concentration due to dissociation into CO and O2 will reduce the average repetitively pulsed or continuous wave laser power, even if no disruptive negative ion instabilities occur. Accordingly, it is the primary object of this invention to extend the lifetime of a catalyst used to combine the CO and O2 products formed in a laser discharge.

A promising low-temperature catalyst for combining CO and O2 is platinum on tin oxide (Pt/SnO2). First, the catalyst is pretreated by a standard procedure. The pretreatment is considered complete when no measurable quantity of CO2 is given off by the catalyst. After this standard pretreatment, the catalyst is ready for its low-temperature use in the sealed, high-energy, pulsed CO2 laser. However, after about 3,000 minutes of operation, the activity of the catalyst begins to slowly diminish. When the catalyst experiences diminished activity during exposure to the circulating gas stream inside or external to the laser, the heated zone surrounding the catalyst is raised to a temperature between 100 and 400 °C. A temperature of 225 °C was experimentally found to provide an adequate temperature for reactivation. During this period, the catalyst is still exposed to the circulating gas inside or external to the laser.

This constant heating and exposing the catalyst to the laser gas mixture is maintained for an hour. After heating and exposing for an appropriate amount of time, the heated zone around the catalyst is allowed to return to the nominal operating temperature of the CO2 laser. This temperature normally resides in the range of 23 to 100 °C.

Catalyst activity can be measured as the percentage conversion of CO to CO2. In the specific embodiment described above, the initial steady-state conversion percentage was 70 percent. After four days, this conversion percentage decreased to 67 percent. No decrease in activity is acceptable because the catalyst must maintain its activity for long periods of time. After being subjected to the reactivation process of the present invention, the conversion percentage rose to 77 percent. Such a reactivation not only returned the catalyst to its initial steady state but resulted in a 10-percent improvement over the initial steady state value.

This work was done by Robert Hess, Barry Sidney, David Schryer, Irvin Miller, George Miller, Bill Upchurch, and Patricia Davis of Langley Research Center and Kenneth Brown of Old Dominion University. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Manufacturing & Prototyping category. LAR-13845-1