NREL
 

Innovative Catalytic Converter Wins National Award

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Golden, Colo., July 25, 1996—A new catalytic converter design that could dramatically reduce automobile emissions and urban air pollution has been named one of the years most important technological breakthroughs.

Research and Development Magazine selected the converter—developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Benteler Industries Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich.—to receive one of its prestigious 1996 R&D 100 awards. The annual awards recognize the years 100 most important, unique and useful innovations. NREL has won 19 R&D 100 awards since 1982.

Catalytic converters reduce harmful vehicle emissions such as hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, but they perform effectively only after reaching operating temperatures of approximately 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequently, 60 to 80 percent of all vehicle emissions occur while the catalytic converter is heating up.

To solve this problem, NREL wrapped its catalytic converter in insulation to keep it at an efficient operating temperature for up to 24 hours after the engine is shut off. For most drivers, the interval between trips is less than 24 hours, so the converter rarely drops below its efficient operating temperature. In recent tests on a Ford Taurus at Southwest Research Institute, the new converter cut hydrocarbon emissions by 84 percent and carbon monoxide emissions by 93 percent. Even greater reductions were noted when the vehicle was fueled with ethanol.

NREL's catalytic converter combines three technological innovations: compact vacuum insulation to keep heat from escaping; phase-change material to absorb, store and release heat as needed; and variable-conductance insulation to prevent overheating by automatically turning the insulation system off when the catalytic converter becomes too hot.

Benteler is working with NREL to commercialize the technology. If the new converter design achieves widespread use by the automotive industry, NREL researchers predict it could reduce vehicle emissions by at least 60 percent and significantly improve urban air quality.

The 1996 R&D 100 award winners will be featured in the September issue of Research and Development magazine. The awards will be presented to winners at a banquet Oct. 14 at the Belleview Hotel in Philadelphia, Pa.

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