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Scientists are developing a new catalytic converter which is effective at low temperatures

Scientists at the University of Leeds are collaborating with the catalytic converter manufacturer Cats and Pipes to develop a new catalytic converter which can accelerate the removal of harmful nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide from engine fumes.

The partnership aims to fit a prototype to a test vehicle by 2023.

Currently many catalytic converters use platinum group metals as a catalyst, which convert harmful gases from an engine into nitrogen and carbon dioxide. These metals are expensive – which also makes them a target for thieves - and do not take effect until the vehicle’s engine has an exhaust temperature above 150 degrees centigrade. 

However, the bulk of traffic fumes in urban areas come from vehicles which are either idling or moving at low speed, and therefore operating at lower temperatures. This means that catalytic converters on urban roads could be operating with less than 50% efficiency. 

The new prototype, LowCat, will use a new synthetic material and will be effective even at low temperatures. 

Associate professor in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds Dr Hu Li who is leading the project 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.” 

Commercialisation Manager at the University of Leeds Simon Clarke said, “LowCat is a very exciting technology that appears to have significant commercial potential. 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.” 

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