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Canadian Technology Will Help Automakers Meet New Emission Standards

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Commercial sales could begin by the end of 2012 on a new Canadian-made catalytic converter that will help automotive manufacturers economically meet tough new emissions standards pending for North America and Europe.

Developed by Vida Holdings of Toronto, the patented Multi-Chamber Catalytic Converter (MCCC) represents a major improvement over current devices and has attracted considerable interest from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Discussions to license the technology are underway with one major automotive company and multiple OEMs are interested in implementing the MCCC design into their fleets. The MCCC technology is applicable for gas- or diesel-powered automobiles, trucks, buses, and other commercial vehicles.

Since their adoption in the mid-1970s, catalytic converters have become the gold standard for reducing auto exhaust emissions. However, the current design has a major shortcoming: emissions remain high during the so-called "cold start" period—that one minute or so it takes after starting the car for the converter to reach operating temperature.

"Eighty to 90 percent of all emissions emitted during a typical 15-minute trip happen during that first minute or two," says Robert Hayes, who is leading the project at the University of Alberta. "Reducing that by even 10 percent would cut emissions dramatically."

The MCCC met emission targets in demonstrations with Environment Canada and is now undergoing rigorous testing at the University of Alberta, using parts provided by a major OEM. The one-year project received more than $180,000 from Automotive Partnership Canada, with an additional $150,000 in funding from Vida.

"Between Bob Hayes and Johnson Matthey (an accredited, and approved OEM supplier/test facility), we're going to possess testing accreditation by the best in the world," says Vida founder Stefano Plati. "Once we finish this large-scale testing, we will begin selling this to any, and all automotive companies."

Plati came up with the idea for the MCCC while working as a shift manager with a shipping company. His daily exposure to air pollution fuelled his quest to find a solution that would dramatically reduce automotive emissions and improve air quality.

Inside a catalytic converter is a ceramic honeycomb "brick" with holes, or cells, that increase the surface area for the exhaust to react with the catalyst. To meet current emission standards, car manufacturers must use more expensive ceramic bricks with a high cell density; 900 cells per square inch (CPSI) compared to the more conventional 400 CPSI units. These higher-end devices also decrease engine power.

"Companies are telling us that the biggest cost saving in terms of manufacturing would be to make a 400 CPSI work like a 900 CPSI and that's what we're testing with the MCCC," says Dr. Hayes.

The MCCC is a relatively simple modification to the current catalytic converter design.
Vida's engineers—all former University of Toronto and York University graduates—added thin layers of insulating material to the ceramic honeycomb, allowing it to heat up faster and achieve emission reductions sooner. The technology also uses fewer precious metals, which would provide a significant cost advantage for diesel engines where the catalytic converter uses about 10 times more platinum and palladium precious metals than gas engines.

"The automotive market is very price-conscious so anything we can do that reduces the price of catalytic converters, while improving their performance, will be good for manufacturers and good for the environment," says Plati.