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Cosmic dust from Venus inspires new technology to combat air pollution

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To reduce CO2 emissions from roads, railways and shipping, several solutions must be implemented simultaneously. With regard to cars, reducing the number of journeys (by making it easier for people to walk and cycle and improving public transport), converting fuel into vehicles and making the most of the vehicles already on the road should , all play an important role. part. None of these solutions is sufficient on its own.

By 2030, sales of new diesel and petrol passenger cars will be banned in the United Kingdom. The future of passenger car driving will be electric. But recently parts delivery problems and the high carbon production costs; electric vehicles could delay the climate benefits of this transition.

To make the most of existing petrol and diesel vehicles — and the carbon invested to make them — drivers and manufacturers can reduce emissions of a family of compounds called nitrogen oxides. linked to respiratory diseases, through better treatment of exhaust gases. In this way, the communities most affected by air pollution can at least be protected before the harmful emissions from vehicles are permanently eradicated.

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My research team is developing a new generation of catalytic converters – the devices that are mounted on exhaust pipes to reduce the release of toxic gases. Inspired by chemistry observed on the surface of extremely hot planets such as Venus, we have produced a synthetic material that could improve air quality.

From Venus to vehicle exhausts

The light from the sun destroys carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmospheres of planets, producing carbon monoxide (CO). Not fast enough to avert climate change, but enough to make atmospheres like Venus contain much more CO than we observe there.

Our group studies the effects of meteoric material (dust from space) in atmospheres. An iron silicate powder we made that replicates this dust can accelerate the conversion of CO to CO₂. This is what the first catalytic converters in cars were designed for, as CO is a poisonous gas.

A series of metal chambers and pipes on the underside of a car.