NASA KNOW-HOW WILL REDUCE AUTOMOTIVE EMISSIONS
NASA's laser technology may soon be part of your car's exhaust
system. Originally designed for satellites to measure the chemical
makeup of the Earth's atmosphere, Low-Temperature Oxidation
Catalysts (LTOC) will soon be available for commercial use.
Developed at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.,
LTOC technology is expected to reduce automotive pollution
emissions by approximately 30 percent and the cost of after-market
catalytic converters by 25 percent.
Most modern automobiles are equipped with catalytic converters
that treat engine exhaust before it leaves the car. Current
technology requires the exhaust to reach a high temperature before
the catalytic converter begins to work.
According to Dr. Jeff Jordan, the LTOC team lead at Langley,
LTOC begins to operate at a much lower temperature or as soon as
the car is started.
"NASA's LTOC addresses some of the shortcomings of conventional
catalysts that we refer to as the cold start deficiency," Jordan
said. "When you first start your car in the morning, particularly
if you live in colder areas of the United States, your catalytic
converter is cold and all the pollutants coming from your engine
are going directly through your tailpipe into the environment," he
Each of the millions of cars in the United States is potentially
a source of air pollution. In larger urban areas, greater numbers
of cars produce more emissions and pollution-related health and
environmental problems. Because of its low-temperature oxidation
capabilities, the NASA catalyst begins to work almost immediately
enabling destruction of toxic gases even when the catalytic
converter is cold.
"If you think about cold cars starting billions of times a day,
a great deal of pollution could be reduced through the
implementation of NASA's LTOC," Jordan added.
Most cars are equipped with three-way catalytic converters.
"Three-way" refers to three regulated emissions: carbon monoxide,
an odorless and colorless poisonous gas; hydrocarbons or volatile
organic compounds (VOCs) produced from evaporated unburned fuel;
and nitrogen oxides, called "NOx." The latter two contribute to
smog and acid rain.
"The LTOC is a collection of technologies that enables the
destruction of pollutant gasses such as carbon monoxide and
hydrocarbons as well as NOx species," Jordan said.
To maintain carbon dioxide lasers in space for atmospheric
research, NASA needed a catalyst system that would affect the
oxidation of carbon monoxide, a by-product of carbon-dioxide laser
operation, under the cold vacuum of space. NASA called on Langley
researchers to develop a technology for space-based carbon-dioxide
Although the need for a carbon dioxide laser in space gave way
to solid-state lasers, the NASA research team developed an
oxidation technology that would work at very low temperatures. Part
of the challenge, to adapt LTOC for internal combustion
applications, was to make it effective at high engine exhaust
temperatures. The result was a catalyst that meets initial
Environmental Protection Agency requirements and California
emission standards for the automotive after-market, does not
require a warm-up period to function, and uses significantly less
precious metals than current commercial products, which reduces the
overall cost of the converter.
"The original NASA LTOC is a unique technology that was
developed for a space-based function," said Jordan. "But it has
been further developed for a ground-based application that will
improve air quality by significantly reducing automobile emissions
at lower costs."
Through NASA's technology commercialization program, Airflow
Catalyst Systems Inc., Rochester, N.Y., is the exclusive licensee
for the NASA LTOC internal combustion application. Airflow
officials expect to have a product on the market within the next 12
NASA is still accepting licensing applications for other LTOC
technologies including: sensors for carbon monoxide or volatile
organic compounds; removal of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from
houses and other buildings; and removal of carbon monoxide and
formaldehyde from automobile, aircraft and other vehicle