What is a catalytic converter?

Every vehicle has an exhaust system that serves three basic functions: Move exhaust away from the engine and passengers, muddle the noise of the engine and reduce emissions. Of the entire system, one of the most baffling parts to people is the catalytic converter.

Here is what the catalytic converter does, how it does it and why it is important.

The Catalyst

The catalytic converter is one of those vehicle parts everyone has heard about, but virtually no one gets how it works. Without it, however, a vehicle would be a pollution belching, potential death trap, thanks to poisonous emissions.

Every catalytic converter has a honeycombed ceramic interior that is coated by Palladium, Rhodium and Platinum. Its purpose is to convert toxic emissions into less harmful gases. This protects vehicle passengers and improves external, environmental air quality.

What It Converts

When an engine is running, it emits three main gasses:

  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Hydrocarbons

Each pollutes the environment and can make a person sick. The catalytic converter transforms carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water and nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and oxygen. Upon conversion, poisonous gases are rendered safe for humans and the environment.

How the Catalyst Works

By definition, a catalyst is anything that accelerates a chemical reaction by lowering the energy needed to achieve that reaction. Exhaust gases flow through the catalytic chamber and the catalytic materials (Platinum, Palladium and Rhodium) promote oxidation of the toxic emissions by lowering its conversion temperatures.

In a catalytic converter, Platinum and Palladium help convert carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Rhodium helps converts Nitrogen Oxides to Nitrogen and Oxygen.

Why It Matters

One vehicle's catalytic converter does not make much of a difference, except to the passengers of that vehicle. Collectively, though, with over 1 billion vehicles in existence and on the road at any given time, the impact in reducing toxic gases and improving air quality is significant.

The catalytic converter helps eliminate toxic gases and clean up the environment. This makes it an indispensable part of a vehicle, even if most people never have understood how it works.

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