Notice when a vehicle has driven 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 vehicle’s 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 catalytic converter. A catalytic converter is made up mainly of a muffler-like chamber that 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 catalytic converter.  The carbon monoxide gas and hydrocarbons emitted from the engine will travel along with the exhaust system until they reach their 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 leaded gasoline was used the lead would cover the platinum and palladium pellets rendering them ineffective and thereby ceasing the reaction. 

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. 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.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


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