Abstract The preparation, characterisation and catalytic behaviour of a Ni-Co-Cr-Zn-Al catalyst in the reaction of acetylene hydrogenation have been investigated. The influence of the temperature and feeding composition on the activity, selectivity and coking have also been examined. An increase in the partial pressure of H2 in the feed causes an increase in the initial conversion, and a diminution in the deactivation rate, ethylene selectivity and in the rate of coke deposition. The opposite effects are observed with respect to the influence of the partial pressure of acetylene. The temperature has a low influence on the activity and selectivity. However, an increase of the operation temperature produces an augmentation in the initial coking rate and a diminution in the final rate of coke formation. A kinetic model of coking growth, that assumes the existence of two types of active sites, has been used in order to analyse the experimental coking data obtained during the acetylene hydrogenation reaction.