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How does a catalytic converter function?

How does a catalytic converter function? Would creating a massive catalytic converter solve our problems for the environment? I.e. reducing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere?
Heveine Baban from Lancashire (age 15-24)


2 Responses

  1. A catalytic converter does not reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air that goes through it. You might be mistaking carbon dioxide with carbon monoxide, which is what a catalytic converter converts into carbon dioxide.

    Carbon monoxide is a very poisonous gas, because it sticks to red blood-cells, substituting oxygen, rendering them useless. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is completely innocuous at considerable concentrations, as well as being an inevitable product of burning any carbon-based substance, such as petrol. As a matter of fact, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant at all and it is the essential source of carbon for photosynthetic beings!

    The fact that carbon dioxide emissions have become a matter of concern over the last few years is that they are so tremendously huge that the global content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen considerably. This is not a problem in itself, because that gas is perfectly innocuous as we say, but it happens to alter the thermal properties of the Earth.

  2. The fuel and air mixture in an internal combustion engine does not burn completely. As well as containing the carbon dioxide and water vapour we expect, it contains unburned fuel, carbon monoxide and some nitrogen oxides. This is the mixture of pollutants that gives rise to modern day smog in big cities around the world.

    The catalytical converter consists of a ceramic block with lots and lots of little holes through it to give it the surface area equivalent to a football pitch. On the surface of the ceramic, tiny particles of platinum, rhodium and palladium are deposited. These metal particles are the catalysts. They do 3 things;

    (1) they oxidise carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide,
    (2) they reduce nitrogen oxides to nitrogen, and
    (3) they oxidise unburned fuel to carbon dioxide and water.

    Processes (1) and (2) are combined essentially into a single process the chemical equation for which can be written

    CO(g) + NO(g) —> CO2(g) + 1/2N2(g).

    In all three of the reactions, the catalysis occurs on the surface of the tiny metal particles.

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