Many auto industry observers believe that “new” automotive technology—like advanced batteries and fuel cells—will leave “old” gasoline and diesel technologies in the dust. They point to the expected rise in production volumes, especially in lithium ion batteries, and the resulting decline in costs. However, the “old” stuff isn’t standing still—and sometimes is being developed by the same companies pushing the envelope on cutting-edge technologies.

Panasonic diesel catalyst

Panasonic’s new catalyst is based on an alkali metal compound which produces active species of alkali metal in the reaction temperature range. The active species accelerate oxidation of particulate matter and decompose them into CO2. Unlike the conventional type of catalyst, the new catalyst does not use platinum.

Panasonic, perhaps best known to hybrid fans as the supplier of batteries for the Toyota Prius, last week began shipping samples of a new lower-priced diesel particulate filter that reduces emissions. Even as hybrids and electric cars enter the diesel-oriented European market, Panasonic’s new filter technology, along with engine improvements, could help keep efficient diesel engines in the mix for some time.

Panasonic’s catalyst uses an alkali-metal compound to replace about 80 percent of the expensive platinum normally used in a filter. Typically the cost of platinum alone in a catalyst is $250 to $300. In addition, the new formula consumes less energy because it lowers the temperature in the filter. Panasonic says the new device has the same durability as current catalysts.

The new filter is the first automotive product developed by a Panasonic subsidiary, Panasonic Ecology Systems Co. Samples were shipped to carmakers and suppliers in Japan and Europe. The company’s goal is to put the filter into mass production by 2012—revealing that the world’s biggest supplier of hybrid batteries sees a future for cleaner-burning diesel technology.