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New catalytic converter could improve vehicle emissions in urban areas

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A new type of catalytic converter is being developed that accelerates the removal of harmful nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide from engine fumes.

Scientists at the University of Leeds are working in collaboration with catalytic converter manufacturer Cats and Pipes, to trial the new device.

The aim is to have a prototype fitted to a test vehicle by 2023, enabling its performance to be compared with current catalytic converters under real road conditions.    

The scientists believe the prototype, which uses a new synthetic materal, has the potential to revolutionise catalytic converter technology.  

Many conventional catalytic converters use platinum group metals as a catalyst, which convert harmful gases from an engine into nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

These metals are expensive, and they do not become effective until the engine is running with an exhaust temperature above 150 degrees centigrade. Traffic fumes in urban areas often come from vehicles operating at lower temperatures because they are either idling or moving at low speed. As a result, conventional catalytic converters under urban road conditions may be operating with less than 50% efficiency. 

The synthetic material developed at Leeds is an effective catalyst at low and even ambient temperatures. 

Dr Hu Li, associate professor in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds, who is leading the project, said: “Among the biggest contributors to poor air-quality in urban areas are traffic fumes, from vehicles which are either stationary or moving slowly. Current catalytic converters do an inefficient job in reducing emissions under those conditions. At Leeds, we are confident that the new catalytic material will out-perform existing technology.” 

Called LowCat, development of the prototype will also investigate whether it is possible to commercially scale-up production. 

Simon Clarke, Commercialisation Manager at the University of Leeds, said: “LowCat is a very exciting technology that appears to have significant commercial potential. We are very grateful for the support offered to us by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and we are looking forward to scale-up and prototype trials, with our industrial partner, Cats & Pipes.” 

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