The material mimics iron sulphite, a substance found in meteorites and believed to accelerate certain gas reactions on the hot surface of Venus. Noting how the reactions were similar to those that take place in catalytic converters, the researchers set about synthesising the material and testing its properties.
The Leeds team is now planning to create a prototype with the material called LowCat in partnership with Welsh automotive company Cats & Pipes, which specialises in the production of catalytic converters. It is hoped that LowCat will be tested on a vehicle under real world conditions by 2023 to compare its performance with that of existing technology.
“LowCat is a very exciting technology that appears to have significant commercial potential,” said Simon Clarke, commercialisation manager at the University of Leeds. “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.”
Most conventional catalytic converters use platinum group metals as a catalyst, converting toxic nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide gases into more benign nitrogen and carbon dioxide. As well as being expensive, these metals are also ineffective until the engine is running with an exhaust temperature between 150-200°C.
But exhaust 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 below 50 per cent efficiency.
“Among the biggest contributors to poor air-quality in urban areas are traffic fumes, from vehicles which are either stationary or moving slowly,” said project lead Dr Hu Li, associate professor at Leeds’ School of Chemical and Process Engineering.
“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.”