Notice when a vehicle drives by nowadays, that it is so much quieter than those
loud oldies that pour out the blue smoke. Ever wonder just what is underneath a vehicle
that makes the new ones so much cleaner. It is called a catalytic converter. The main
function of a catalytic converter is to decrease pollution emitted from a vehicles exhaust.
The concept behind this is to add a catalyst and force a reaction between the automobile's
exhaust and oxygen in the converter. To see just how this happens let's look inside of a
A catalytic converter is made up mainly of a mufflerlike chamber which contains
porous, heat-resistant materials coated with either platinum or palladium. These
materials are known as catalysts. A catalyst is an element which although causing a
reaction to occur, does not change at all during the reaction. This is the idea behind a
The carbon monoxide gas and hydrocarbons emitted from the engine
will travel along the exhaust system until they reach they catalytic converter. There it
comes into contact with the described catalyst. This forces a reaction between the
carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons with the oxygen inside the converter creating
products of carbon dioxide and water vapor. The reaction which occurs inside the
converter is as follows:
The main compounds involved are carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons
(compounds of hydrogen and carbon), as well as oxygen. When these three are
combined with the provided catalyst, a reaction occurs as above. During the reaction the
oxygen splits apart the carbon monoxide and the hydrocarbons and allows them to
combine with its elements forming the aforementioned products.
The catalytic converter first made an appearance in vehicles in 1975. The
government of the United States of America had established a law controlling auto
emissions. There was one minor detail that was outlined in the use of a catalytic
converter, however. There must only be the use of lead-free gasoline. The reasoning
behind this was that if a leaded gasoline was used the lead would cover the platinum and
palladium pellets rendering them ineffective and thereby ceasing the reaction to exist.
Phosphorus had much of the same effect on the pellets so the gasoline must contain
minimal amounts of it as well.
A catalytic converter can be located in every new vehicle today, unless the
vehicle runs on diesel fuel. In case you were interested in finding the catalytic converter
nearest you, you may want to take a look under the nearest vehicle. It looks like the
muffler only it is a little bit larger and more to the front of the exhaust system. I advise
the unauthorized removal of it, however, for it may result in the breakdown of our
Threats like these to our atmosphere spurred on the creation of anti-pollutant
components in vehicles and the trend for a pollution free environment still continues. It
will be a great struggle as inventors come up with new and bizarre ways to keep our
atmosphere intact. Already, electric and solar powered test cars have taken to the
highways to test their durability, effectiveness, and convenience. The catalytic converter
was definitely the original spark that started the new 'safe' auto craze, and was an
ingenious invention. I'm sure that as long as I live such inventions will never outlive
i) Chemistry - Heath
i) The Internet - 'Catalytic Converters'
ii) 'Catalysis.' Encyclopedia Encarta. 1994 ed.
i) 'Catalytic Converter.' The World Book
Encyclopedia. 1985 ed.