Low-Temperature Oxidation Catalysts (LTOC) will soon be available for use in car exhaust systems.
Developed at Nasa’s Langely Research Centre in Hampton, VA, LTOC technology is expected to reduce automotive pollution emissions by approximately 30% and the cost of aftermarket catalytic converters by 25%.
Most modern automobiles are equipped with catalytic converters that treat engine exhaust before it leaves the car. Current technology, however, requires the exhaust to reach a high temperature before the catalytic converter begins to work.
According to Dr. Jeff Jordan, the LTOC team leader at Langley, a LTOC system begins to operate at a much lower temperature or as soon as the car is started.
‘NASA’s LTOC addresses some of the shortcomings of conventional catalysts that we refer to as the ‘cold start deficiency’,’ Jordan said. ‘When you first start your car in the morning, your catalytic converter is cold and all the pollutants coming from your engine are going directly through your tailpipe into the environment,’ he explained.
Because of its low-temperature oxidation capabilities, the NASA catalyst begins to work almost immediately enabling destruction of toxic gases even when the catalytic converter is cold.
Most cars are equipped with three-way catalytic converters. ‘Three-way’ refers to three regulated emissions: carbon monoxide, an odourless and colourless poisonous gas, hydrocarbons or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced from evaporated unburned fuel, and nitrogen oxides, or ‘NOx.’ The latter two contribute to smog and acid rain.
‘The LTOC is a collection of technologies that enables the destruction of pollutant gasses such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons as well as NOx species,’ Jordan said.
Because the NASA research team originally developed the oxidation technology to work at very low temperatures in space, part of the challenge to adapt LTOC for internal combustion applications, was to make it effective at high engine exhaust temperatures as well.
The result was a catalyst that now meets initial US Environmental Protection Agency requirements and California emission standards for the automotive after-market, does not require a warm-up period to function, and uses significantly less precious metals than current commercial products, which reduces the overall cost of the converter.
Through NASA’s technology commercialisation program, Airflow Catalyst Systems in Rochester, NY is the exclusive licensee for the NASA LTOC internal combustion application. A product from the company is expected within the next 12 months.