What does a Catalytic Converter do?

What does a Catalytic Converter do?

It is well known that emissions from a vehicle engine that uses fossil fuels are harmful to the environment and humans as the exhaust gas contains several toxic gases that damage our health as well as cause various undesirable effects to our atmosphere. As the damage done to our environment has become more apparent and less reversible, legislation concerned with the quality of air have been introduced which make catalytic converters mandatory for vehicles in certain areas. The primary function of a catalytic converter is to convert the toxic gases emitted by a vehicle into less harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and steam. Catalytic converters are attached to the downpipe exhaust of a vehicle where it can intercept the exhaust material from the engine before it is released into the environment. While having one catalytic converter is all but guaranteed, certain vehicles have up to four, depending on the efficiency and quality of their engines as well as the purity of the expected fuel used.

Since combustion engines burn fossil fuels, the gases emitted include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, and unburnt hydrocarbon particles. These gases cause a wide range of issues including breathing problems, neurological damage, and skin issues in humans and acid rains, global warming, and ozone depletion on the environment. Catalytic converters contain precious metals including titanium, palladium and rhodium which act as catalysts in reactions involving these chemicals as reactants and release less harmful gases such as water and carbon dioxide as the products. A catalyst is a participant in a chemical reaction that does not deplete as the reaction progresses and merely accelerate the process. The metals in a catalytic converter facilitate the reaction between the gases in the exhaust and accelerate the process of converting them to less harmful gases.

The two main types of catalysts found in vehicles are oxidation catalysts and reduction catalysts. Oxidation catalysts oxidise the reactants in the exhaust and are used to convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Reduction catalysts reduce the reactants and are used to reduce nitrogen oxides into inert Nitrogen gas and reduce sulphur oxides. They can also be classified as two-way and three-way catalytic converters. Two-way catalytic converters only convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and unburnt hydrocarbon particles into carbon dioxide and water. Three-way catalytic converters, on the other hand, have additional functionality and are included in more modern vehicles. These are able to reduce the sulphur and nitrogen oxides into less harmful gases in addition to the functionality of the former type.

Unfortunately, catalytic converter theft is a significant issue as the precious metals in the converters make them desirable to thieves. The trace amounts of titanium, palladium and other elements present in the catalytic converter can add up to form a substantial value in precious metals. It can he helpful to install covers to the converter making theft more difficult or car alarms that extend to trigger when the catalytic converter is disturbed to reduce converter theft.

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