Could a new type of catalytic converter cut fuel consumption and car manufacturing costs?

It may soon be according to a scientist from Imperial College London (ICL). The college announced Dr Benjamin Kingsbury has designed a new catalytic converter that could cut fuel consumption and manufacturing costs.

According to ICL, tests suggest that the new prototype could reduce fuel consumption in a standard vehicle by up to three percent. It could also deliver environmental benefits by reducing the amount of CO2 that each vehicle emits.

A conventional catalytic converter is a ceramic block, which is honeycombed with microscopic channels that are coated in a rare metal such as platinum. The catalytic converter is located within the exhaust system, between the engine and the muffler. Emissions travel from the engine to the exhaust system and through the channels, where the precious metal causes a chemical reaction to occur that eliminates part of the harmful pollutants.

ICL explained the new design uses up to 80 percent less rare metal, which is where reduced costs are found for vehicle manufacturers. Catalytic converters are expensive to manufacture because of the cost of platinum and other rare metals. These metals currently account for up to 60 to 70 percent of the cost of the component.

The prototype is also predicted by researchers to perform better than existing models because the rare metal used in the new type of catalytic converter degrades less over the lifetime of the component. Laboratory tests suggest that it deteriorates by only four percent over a distance of 100,000 kilometers (roughly 62,000 miles), compared to 35 percent for a standard catalytic converter.

“Catalytic converters are the most important component in a vehicle for controlling exhaust emissions,” said Dr Benjamin Kingsbury is a Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London. “Yet their design has not changed since they were first developed in the 1940s. The prototype I have developed could make cars cheaper to run because they use less fuel. It could potentially help manufacturers to reduce their costs. Drivers could also be a major beneficiary of this device, which could save on fuel costs and ultimately lead to reduced CO2 emissions.”

Dr Kingsbury said it has advanced an existing manufacturing process to improve the structure of the microscopic channels, increasing the surface area and enabling the rare metal in the device to be distributed more effectively so that less metal is used. The increased surface area also makes the catalytic converter’s chemical reaction process more efficient.

ICL added the new design of the device increases fuel efficiency by preventing ‘back pressure’, which is a build up of gases that can make the engine work harder, affecting its performance.

Dr Kingsbury developed the technology in conjunction with Professor Kang Li and Dr Zhentao Wu who are both from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial. He has been awarded funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering to take his prototype to the marketplace.

Kingsbury said the next step is to develop a production process for mass manufacturing.