Butterfly-inspired catalytic converter cleans air

Disease caused by toxic chemicals in the atmosphere accounts for 5 million deaths each year and is the third-leading cause of deaths in developing nations. To tackle this issue, researchers from the Wyss Institute and Harvard University have developed a cost-effective catalytic coating which is inspired from the nanostructure of a butterfly's wing.

Catalytic converters are devices which reduce harmful pollutants in exhaust gasses from internal combustion engines into less-toxic substances by catalyzing a chemical reaction. Typical catalytic converters are usually expensive due to the metals needed for their production, and the coating at Wyss Institute will be a cheaper system for air pollution control. 

Similar to the structure of a butterfly wing, channels of air are incorporated throughout the material coating, which maximizes the efficiency of the chemical reactions (making the process quicker) whilst decreasing the amount of precious metals needed by 80%. As Research Associate of Material Science and Mechanical Engineering, Dr Tanya Shirman explains, “We can precisely place the nanoparticles in our porous architecture and make them fully accessible to exhaust gasses, which dramatically improves our coating’s performance and makes it much cheaper and accessible.”

The researchers envision that the coating will be integrated into the catalytic converter industry, allowing low-income countries and consumers the ability to effectively reduce air pollution. Whilst the commercial development of the material is ongoing, the research illustrates how the expansion of nanostructure research can drive the production of sustainable and efficient systems in order to tackle important social and environmental issues, such as air pollution.

To learn more about this research, visit the  Wyss Institute's website.

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