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Name: Sultan Alnajdi

Class: English 202C

Instructor: Dr. Peacock
Date: June 15th, 2015
Audience: Mechanical engineering students who are enrolling in ME 442 (Advanced Vehicle Design I)

How a Catalytic Converter Works

Eugene Houndry, a French mechanical engineer who was concerned about the
toxic emission exhaust, invented the catalytic converter in the mid-1950s (Csere, 1988).
A catalytic converter is an emission device that
reduces toxic combustion gases by submitting a
catalyst through reduction and oxidation
reactions. It is a long multi-directional tube that
connects the combustion engine to the exhaust
system, made from either stainless steel or
titanium. It is widely used in almost all
combustion engines found in cars, buses, trains
and generators that are a part of the emission

The Location of a catalytic converter:

The catalytic converter is located behind
the combustion engine (See image 1.A). It
reaches its ideal efficiency due to the intense
heat traveled from the combustion system to the
catalytic converter. Specifically, the catalyst
inside the catalytic converter reacts at a fast
rate by lowering the activation energy of the
chemical reactions.

Catalytic coonverter parts describtion:

(See image 1.B)
1. Exhaust gas entrance:
A combination of toxic gases, for
instance, HC (hydrocarbons), CO
(carbon monoxide) and NOX
(nitrogen oxides) travel into the
catalytic converter.



Image (1): Location and parts of catalytic converter

2. Stainless steel body:

A stainless steel body provides vital protection to the interior of the
catalytic converter against external forces (specify the kinds of forces) and
corrosion (rust specify).
3. Heat shield:
A filament that protects other nearby devices that are easily damaged by
heat and keeps the catalytic converter in a stable temperature.
4. Reduction catalyst (See image 2.A):
The reduction catalyst is made of platinum and rhodium (4-9 grams)
and reacts with NOX gases and reduces it forming O2 gas and N2 gas.
(K. Nice and C. Bryant, page.3)
(Petrucci, William S., and Geoff E. Herring, 2006)
5. Oxidization catalyst (see image 2.B):
Reduces the hydrocarbons
and carbon monoxide by
burning (oxidizing) them
over platinum and
palladium catalyst (4-9
(K. Nice and C. Bryant,
(Petrucci, William S., and
Geoff E. Herring, 2006)

6. Ceramic honeycomb catalyst:

This structure contains
precious metals, for
example, platinum,
Image (2): Stages of toxic gases reacting with reduction and oxidation
rhodium and palladium,
which maximize the flow rate Avneet Kahlon and Tony Tang.
of the toxic gases throughout
the catalytic converter. In
addition, the holes increase
the surface area, which allows more reactions to take place in the catalytic
converter and stimulate electron transfer between the toxic gases and the
precious metals.
7. Tail pipe emission:
A combination of less toxic gases, for instance, H2O, CO2, O2 and
N2 that exits out of the catalytic converter.
8. Oxygen sensor plug:

The Oxygen sensor plug is a system device that sends information to the
computer engine about how much oxygen had left the combustion engine
and the amount of oxygen exiting from the catalytic converter (K. Nice
and C. Bryant, page.4)

The function of the catalytic converter:

To reduce the amount of toxic emission gases, the vehicle system must cautiously
control the air-to-fuel ratio within the stoichiometric point (14.7:1 for gasoline engines),
which is the point that converts fuel and air into pure energy. However, toxic emission
gases are eventually being produced even if the ratio is at 100% efficiency. As a result, a
catalytic converter helps in reducing the amount of toxic gases. (K. Nice and C. Bryant,

Combustion gases enter the catalytic converter:

The combustion engine begins burning fuel and air in the combustion
chamber (See image 3.2), producing HC (hydrocarbons), CO (carbon
monoxide) and NOX (nitrogen oxides in forms of NO and NO2). Afterwards,
the high temperature gases travel to the exhaust gas entrance, where the phase
of the catalytic converter
starts (See image 3.1).


Catalysts reacts in the

ceramic honeycomb:
(See image 3.3)
The toxic gases
encounter blocks of
ceramics that have thin
wall channels that are
layered with aluminum
oxide. This coating
porous and increase the
surface area (Petrucci,
William S., and Geoff E.
Herring, 2006). (See
image 3.4) Thus,
increasing the possibility
of reduction and
oxidization reactions to
occur. There are two
main catalysts in the
ceramic honeycomb:

Image (3): Stages of gases travelling from combustion chamber to the exhaust

1. Reduction catalyst:
(See image 2.A)
The first phase that the toxic gases encounter is the reduction catalyst. It is
composed of platinum and rhodium (precious metals) that reacts to and
reduces the nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2) at high temperatures, producing
oxygen gas (O2) and nitrogen (N2) gas.
The mentioned reactions are:
2NO (g) N2 (g) + O2 (g)
2NO2 (g) N2 (g) + 2O2 (g)
(K. Nice and C. Bryant, page.3)
2. Oxidization catalyst:
(See image 2.B)
The gases will flow to the next stage where they encounter the oxidization
catalyst. It is composed of platinum and palladium (precious metals) that
reacts to and oxidizes hydrocarbons gases (HC) and carbon monoxide gas
(CO) at high temperatures, producing water vapor (H2O) and carbon
dioxide gas (CO2).
The mentioned reactions are:
2CO (g) + O2 (g) 2CO2 (g)
CxHx (g) + xO2(g) xCO2 (g) + XH2O(g)
(K. Nice and C. Bryant, page.3)

Exit emission gases:

Finally, the gases exit the catalytic converter in the form of nitrogen gas (N2),
oxygen gas (O2), water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The oxygen
sensor plug measures the amount of oxygen exiting from the catalytic
converter. The engine computer would control the amount of oxygen leaving
the combustion by controlling the air-to fuel ratio for maximum efficiency,
which allows the catalytic converter operate at a 100% efficiency (K. Nice and
C. Bryant, page.4). The gases will continue their journey to the exhaust
system and exiting from the vehicle.

The catalytic converter is composed of multiple parts that operate in a uniform manner.
Utilizing the design of the catalytic converter by using catalysts and precious metals to
easily convert lethal gases into less harmful gases in milliseconds. Undeniably, the
catalytic converter is a vital component in every combustion vehicle, preventing
hazardous toxic gases from polluting the air we breathe.


Csere, C. (January 1988). 10 Best Engineering Breakthroughs. Car and Driver 33 (7): 63.
Nice, K. & Bryant, C. (November 2000). How Catalytic Converters Work.
HowStuffWorks. Retrieved from:
Petrucci, R. H., Harwood W. S., & Herring G. E. (2006) General Chemistry: Principles
and Modern Applications. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.