Originally published in the Toronto Star
HAMILTON—Seldom have exhaust emissions been more top-of-mind with the general public than in the past couple of weeks, what with the current Volkswagen situation.
A trio of local men may just have part of the answer.
John Douglas, Rob Crawford and Anthony Hardenne met casually through mutual friends a few years ago.
As car guys will, they started talking cars.
All being also technically oriented — Douglas, a tool and die maker; Crawford, a materials engineer; Hardenne, a self-described serial entrepreneur” — they wondered if they might do a project together.
They don’t remember exactly why they started talking about exhaust emissions control systems.
But now they may have come up with the next big thing in automotive emissions technology.
Now bear with me here — this story gets a little bit technical. But I think — I hope — you will find it interesting.
It certainly is important.
And, it’s a great Canadian story!
First, contrary to popular belief, the car is nowhere near being a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — just 12 per cent, according to Environment Canada.
Yet governments keep making it tougher on the car industry.
E.g., the U.S. has tightened standards for passenger vehicle emissions by some 50 per cent for 2025. Canada is sure to follow.
The Catalytic Converter — perhaps the most important emissions control technology ever invented — is largely responsible for the fact that the exhaust coming out of your car’s tailpipe is often cleaner than the air going into the engine.
The ‘CatCon’ consists of a ‘substrate’ — a ceramic honeycomb material that looks like the sponge toffee we used to destroy our teeth with as kids — coated with thin layers of precious metals such as rhodium, palladium, and platinum.
As exhaust gasses pass through this device, a chemical reaction takes place to convert the bad gasses into more benign ones.
These precious metals are rendered useless by leaded gasoline, which is why we all use unleaded now.
Problem: CatCons only work when hot. Roughly speaking, some 80 per cent of exhaust emissions from petroleum-fuelled vehicles occur in the first five minutes of operation, because it takes that long for the CatCon to ‘light off’.
Thus, CatCons are located as close to the exhaust manifold as possible.