Two-way catalytic converters

A two-way catalytic converter has two simultaneous tasks:

  1. Oxidation of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide: 2CO + O2 → 2CO2
  2. Oxidation of unburnt hydrocarbons (unburnt and partially-burnt fuel) to carbon dioxide and water: 2CxHy + (2x+y/2)O2 → 2xCO2 + yH2O

This type of catalytic converter is widely used on diesel engines to reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions. They were also used on spark ignition (gasoline) engines in USA market automobiles up until 1981, when they were replaced by three-way converters due to regulatory changes requiring reductions on NOx emissions. Reduction of the NOx emissions requires an additional step. Platinum catalysis can be used.

Instead of catalysis, for diesel engines a true reactant, ammonia pyrolyzed in situ from urea, can be used to reduce the NOx into nitrogen, see AdBlue.

The regulations regarding hydrocarbons vary according to the engine regulated, as well as the jurisdiction. In some cases, "non-methane hydrocarbons" are regulated, while in other cases, "total hydrocarbons" are regulated. Technology for one application (to meet a non-methane hydrocarbon standard) may not be suitable for use in an application that has to meet a total hydrocarbon standard. Methane is not toxic, but is more difficult to break down in a catalytic converter, so in effect a "non-methane hydrocarbon" standard can be considered to be looser. Since methane is a greenhouse gas, interest is rising in how to eliminate emissions of it.