By helping to minimize the hydrocarbons and other pollutants that are emitted in a car's exhaust, catalytic converters serve an important purpose. Because they contain precious metals such as platinum, however, they can also be expensive. Now, a British scientist has developed a new type of converter that should be cheaper, longer-lasting and more effective, plus it should boost the vehicle's fuel efficiency.

In a regular catalytic converter, exhaust flows through a honeycomb network of rare-metal-coated microscopic channels, which run throughout a ceramic block. As the emissions contact the metal catalyst, a chemical reaction takes place, eliminating some of the more toxic compounds. As a result, the exhaust that ultimately comes out of the tailpipe is considerably cleaner than it otherwise would be.

Dr. Benjamin Kingsbury, a research associate at Imperial College London, has devised a method of increasing the active surface area of the microscopic channels. Not only does this mean that the catalytic converter can eliminate more pollutants, but because the metal is able to be distributed in a more effective fashion, up to 80 percent less of it is required.

Additionally, laboratory tests indicate that in this new configuration, the metals degrade by approximately four percent after 100,000 km (62,137 miles) of use – by contrast, over the same distance, the metals in a regular converter degrade by about 35 percent.

Finally, the new converter reportedly prevents back pressure, a situation in which exhaust gases build up and cause the engine to work harder. This feature could allow motorists to use up to three percent less fuel.

Kingsbury developed the catalytic converter in collaboration with Imperial's Prof. Kang Li and Dr. Zhentao Wu. He established a company last December, to commercialize the technology.