Automotive

New catalytic converter could make cars cleaner, more fuel efficient and less expensive

New catalytic converter could ...
Regular catalytic converters like this one may be on their way to obsolescence (Image: Shutterstock)
Regular catalytic converters like this one may be on their way to obsolescence (Image: Shutterstock)
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Regular catalytic converters like this one may be on their way to obsolescence (Image: Shutterstock)
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Regular catalytic converters like this one may be on their way to obsolescence (Image: Shutterstock)

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.

Source: Imperial College London

20 comments
The Skud
I hope they design them to allow for retrofitting present day cars as the converters break down.
Gadgeteer
Shucks. Tricked me again. As I started reading this, I was sure this was going to be yet another application of that miraculous material of a thousand uses: graphene. Well, I guess I'll have to wait until next week for another graphene story.
MattII
Good stuff, not a perfect solution, but every little helps.
limbodog
Since we have to replace converters periodically, this sounds like an excellent advance. No clue on construction costs tho'.
BigGoofyGuy
I like how it helps people go green without having to spend a lot of green. I too hope one can retrofit it to current cars to help be greener and get better MPG.
PB
And it will be approved for use in California ........ when ????
Bruce H. Anderson
I assume it could be a retrofit, but that assumes the form factor hasn't changed much from existing units. Sure would be nice to see a picture, a sketch, a diagram, anything. Even the link offers little.
Volodya Kotsev
Bravo!
lwesson
I am not so certain about the 35% degrade after 62,000 miles. My Saturn is but mere inches away from 190,000 miles and passes the exhaust test swimmingly well. By this account, my converter is long ago dead, simply nailed to it's perch. Another auto hit 278,000 miles, "Last of the v-8 interceptors" --Olds 403 cubic inch engine-- and had just passed exhaust muster for another year. IF driven right, the high 20's per MPG. The '81 Pontiac Bonneville, a true Road Warrior Machine. I took a photo of it at the bottom of the copper mining pit when I was in The Postman. A fitting Warrior tribute. Now it is a taxi in Belize. Must really really need a retro fit converter now.
Matthew Faunce
I'd rather see them use more of this material, not get the fuel efficiency gain and scrub out more pollutants