Harmful emissions from automobiles are one of the foremost environmental challenges facing our planet. The residual effects of burned fossil fuels can be detrimental to the health of our planet as well as its people, particularly those with respiratory illness.
Chemists are at the forefront of the auto emission challenge. Chemical solutions are having a measurable effect on greenhouse gasses globally, and chemical strategies for pollution reduction are only becoming more viable. Here are four great examples of how chemistry is reducing auto emissions.
- The Electric Car Battery
Perhaps the most promising development in auto emission reduction is the prevalence of the electric car. Battery-powered vehicles run on redox reactions, powered by the chemically-induced transfer of electrons from one substance to another. Lead-acid batteries are the most common, using sulfuric acid to catalyze electrochemical reactions; other interesting solutions such as a vanadium-flow electric battery are being studied for their longer lifespan and higher sustainability.
- Selective Catalytic Reduction
Of all emissions, nitrogen oxides – most readily produced as a bi-product of diesel-run vehicles – appear to be the most harmful. In the UK, efforts are underway to ensure every vehicle is “zero emission” by as early as 2050, and chemists point to Selective Catalytic Reduction as a means for getting there. By injecting a fluid into the exhaust stream (commonly, urea), ammonia is produced and then acts as a catalyst. Once ammonia is combined with nitrogen oxides, the resulting runoff is comprised only of nitrogen and water. Studies show this method, when properly applied, can reduce NOx levels by up to 90%.
- NOx Absorbers
Lean nitrogen oxide traps (LNTs) are another method for reducing emissions from diesel that are growing in popularity. Using a platinum catalyst, nitrogen oxide is converted to nitrogen dioxide and stored as nitrates within the vehicle. The “storage” device is typically made of alkaline earth metals or rare earth metals, most commonly barium oxide. This solution is most effective for smaller vehicles and requires that the storage trap be regularly “cleaned” by an injection of diesel fuel and interaction with a rhodium catalyst.
- Plastic Over Aluminum
Interestingly, one of the most unexpected developments in the study of decreasing emissions is the call for adoption of more plastic compounds in auto production. Commodity plastics such as polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, and nylon used in place of traditional metal/aluminum automobile components can make vehicles substantially lighter. With aluminum costs higher than ever, auto manufacturers are expected to increasingly turn to solutions such as “lightweighting” to reduce emissions holistically.
The automobile industry is the most visible face of our air pollution crisis. Reducing auto emissions is a priority for many countries, particularly those struggling with the side-effects of diesel. In the next decades, chemistry may emerge as the single most important component of auto R&D.
Noah Chemicals is plugged into the chemistry of auto emissions. To talk to our on-staff chemists about how our chemicals are improving air quality, reach out to us today.