LowCat promises low-temperature catalytic conversion

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A synthetic material developed at Leeds University is to be used in LowCat, a prototype catalytic converter that can remove emissions at low temperatures.

LowCat
Image: Simon Clarke

Scientists at Leeds University announced the development of the material in February 2021 and have now entered a research collaboration with Cats and Pipes, an automotive company in North Wales that designs and manufacturers catalytic converters. A grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has enabled the industrial collaboration.

The aim is to have the prototype device fitted to a test vehicle by 2023, enabling its performance to be compared with current catalytic converters under real road conditions. Development of the LowCat prototype will also investigate whether it is possible to commercially scale-up production.

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The scientists believe the prototype has the potential to transform catalytic converter technology.

Exhaust fumes are one of the major contributors to poor air quality in urban areas, which is linked to chronic ill health and death. A report from Public Health England in 2019 estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 people a year die from long-term exposure to air pollution.

Many conventional catalytic converters use platinum group metals as a catalyst, which convert nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide gases from into nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases by the time it is emitted from the tail pipe.

Platinum group metals are expensive and do not become effective until the engine is running with an exhaust temperature above 150oC. The synthetic material developed at Leeds is claimed to be an effective catalyst at low and even ambient temperatures.

Project leader Dr Hu Li, Associate Professor in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at Leeds University, 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.”

The idea for the development of the new catalytic material at Leeds University came from work done by Professor John Plane and Dr Alexander James, from the School of Chemistry involving a theoretical analysis of the behaviour of hot gases on the surface of Venus.

They believed that iron silicate, a material found in meteorites, was accelerating the kinds of reactions seen in a catalytic converter. From that observation, the research team set out to develop a synthetic material that would behave in a similar fashion.

Scientists at Leeds University involved in the development of LowCat include Dr Hu Li and Professor John Blacker, from the School of Chemical and Process Engineering; and Dr Alexander James and Professor John Plane, from the School of Chemistry.