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Robert C Stempel, former chairperson and ceo, General Motors, is largely credited for inventing the catalytic converter. In 1974 Corning, a us -based company, made the first catalyst substrates for autocatalyst manufacturers in the us. Catalysts were fitted into 1975 car models, marking the beginning of the gadget's exhaustive use. As Marcus Nurdin, managing director of the International Platinum Association (ipa) explains, "Since catalytic converters were first fitted, more than 12 billion tons of harmful gases have been rendered harmless worldwide." ipa is celebrating the covertor's 30 th anniversary. Its interest? The gadget uses platinum-based metals.
More than 96 per cent of all cars manufactured today are equipped with convertors, an index of its importance. According to Johnson Matthey, a uk-based pioneer in the convertor business, a typical car in 1960 emitted over 100 grams of pollutants for every mile driven. Today, however, a new car bought in the us, Japan or Europe -- where autocatalysts are compulsory -- emits only about two grams of pollutants per mile.
It was in 1952 that Arie Haagen-Smit of the us-based California Institute of Technology discovered the nature and causes of photochemical smog. He determined that a major component of smog was ozone, created by the interaction of nitrogen oxides (nox) and hydrocarbons (hcs). This discovery laid the foundation for most pollution control standards that were subsequently mandated; the catalytic convertor, too, focuses on cleaning up these chemicals.
Since its introduction, convertor technology has been consistently improved. Way back in 1976, for instance, a us-based science and materials company called Engelhard introduced the three-way automotive catalyst, which could oxidise co and hcs to carbon dioxide and water while also breaking down nox to nitrogen. This was a phenomenal breakthrough; earlier, convertors could tackle only hcs and co; now, the drive to control vehicular pollution could begin in earnest.
Currently, convertor technologies -- absolutely critical to meet stringent emissions standards -- are so sophisticated that they require near-zero sulphur fuels to work effectively. In other words, the need for sensitive after-treatment of exhaust has created a concomitant demand to clean up fuels.
The second: there is no way to check whether the catalytic converter fitted to your car actually works or not!