Within a fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, a mixture of catalyst particles that consist of either zeolite Y (FCC-Y) or ZSM-5 (FCC-ZSM-5) is used in order to boost the propylene yield when processing crude oil fractions. Mixtures of differently aged FCC-Y and FCC-ZSM-5 particles circulating in the FCC unit, the so-called equilibrium catalyst (Ecat), are routinely studied to monitor the overall efficiency of the FCC process. In this study, the age of individual catalyst particles is evaluated based upon photographs after selective staining with substituted styrene molecules. The observed color changes are linked to physical properties, such as the micropore volume and catalytic cracking activity data. Furthermore, it has been possible to determine the relative amount of FCC-Y and FCC-ZSM-5 in an artificial series of physical mixtures as well as in an Ecat sample with unknown composition. As a result, a new practical tool is introduced in the field of zeolite catalysis to evaluate FCC catalyst performances on the basis of photo-spectroscopic measurements with an off-the-shelf digital single lens reflex (DSLR) photo-camera with a macro lens. The results also demonstrate that there is an interesting time and cost trade-off between single catalyst particle studies, as performed with e.g. UV-vis, synchrotron-based IR and fluorescence micro-spectroscopy, and many catalyst particle photo-spectroscopy studies, making use of a relatively simple DSLR photo-camera. The latter approach offers clear prospects for the quality control of e.g. FCC catalyst manufacturing plants
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