Catalytic heaters produce heat through flameless chemical reactions. Many space heaters are catalytic. Soldering irons and disposable chemical heat packs are also catalytic heaters. They produce heat gradually, which is a significant advantage over combustion heaters in applications requiring controlled, predictable heating.
According to Brad Painting of DexKnows Home Improvement, simple catalytic heaters consist of a fuel tank, a metal grate and a mesh plated with a catalyst such as platinum. As the fuel passes from the tank through the mesh, it undergoes a chemical reaction and produces heat. The metal grate absorbs the heat and radiates it out into the surrounding space, often assisted by a small fan.
Catalytic heaters have several potential power sources. The most common include alcohol, propane, lighter fluid and butane. Some catalytic heaters are safe for indoor use during power outages. However, fire safety laws restrict the type and size of the fuel tank permitted for these applications. Mr. Heater explains that in the event of a fire, failure to abide by these guidelines renders the house ineligible for fire department intervention due to the risk of a fuel tank explosion, regardless of the source of the fire.
Catalytic heaters need fresh air to function safely. The chemical reaction between the fuel and the catalyst requires plenty of oxygen. RV expert Curtis Carver frequently uses catalytic heaters while traveling and advises others to reduce the risk of suffocation by ensuring that the heater has a steady supply of fresh oxygen.