There's gold in them ‘thar’ catalysts!

The crusade to reduce the amount of outlandishly priced platinum group metals (PGMs) in automotive catalysts now is under way, after recent announcements by both General Motors Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. that the companies have new technology that will drastically cut PGM “loadings” in catalytic converters.

But gold, the most famous of precious metals, has been found to have its own unique catalytic properties — and there are a number of exciting possibilities for its use in air purification, says Mike Cortie, head of the physical metallurgy division at Mintek, South Africa's metallurgical research organization.

Gold has a much lower melting temperature than PGMs, so it could not be used in catalysts for gasoline engines, but experts reportedly believe it can be used for diesel engines due to their lower exhaust temperatures. It is believed the use of gold for air purification in buildings and aircraft, for instance, could be ready within two years.

Mr. Cortie says gold is set to become the “industrial metal of the 21st century.” A gold compound recently proved successful in the treatment of certain cancers, and the outlook for its use in nano-technology is said to be excellent.

A ‘cat’ that goes ‘splat’

There's all sorts of good catalyst news lately, but to paraphase Monty Python, here's something completely different: Emitec, a German supplier that produces metallic substrates for catalytic converters, says those same substrate designs also may prove useful in mitigating low-speed crash damage.

The substrate is the inner “grid” holding the precious-metal washcoats that clean up engine exhaust as it flows by. At the request of an automaker customer, Emitec has taken its substrate and re-engineered it to work as a “deformation crash element.”

The substrate, says Emitec, could serve as the mounting device that connects the front bumper to the car. It is made of aluminum foil, so it's light and it deforms in a controlled fashion, sort of like an accordion — allowing the substrate to absorb much of the force of a low-speed collision and reduce or even eliminate more costly damage to the frame structure.

Isuzu, Delphi to use ion-sense ignition

Isuzu Motors Ltd. and Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. say their “ion sense” ignition subsystems — in use for the past year on Isuzu Troopers and Rodeos — have enabled cuts in emissions and fuel usage while adding value by integrating functions.

The ion-sense system consists of an individual ignition coil for each cylinder and a central control module, none of which have any moving parts. After the spark fires the cylinder's air/fuel mixture, the system applies a DC current to the sparkplug gap, turning the spark plug into a sensor. When there are ions present in the gap, there are changes in the DC current that can be translated into useful information about the effectiveness of the combustion process.

Delphi says the ion sense system eliminates the need for the individual crankshaft, camshaft and rough-road sensors typically used for engine-management information. Also, the in-cylinder sensing of misfire and knock is an improvement of most current methods.

Lupo, A2 missing the mark with buyers

In what may be a blow to advanced-materials and technology interests — and possibly hybrid-vehicle supporters — the aluminum-intensive and high-tech powertrain-used in Volkswagen AG “3-Liter” Lupo and Audi A2 subcompacts are not resounding successes in the European market.

Although it's agreed the A2 is a good-looking “super-mini,” it and the 3-Liter Lupo's highly hyped overall fuel consumption of 80 mpg (3L/100 km) hasn't exactly brought customers pouring into the showrooms. Audi's had to suffer the indignity of placing an approximate $900 special-package incentive on its high-tech A2, and it appears nigh on impossible that the company will hit its ambitious target of 50,000 sales for this year.

Meanwhile, since its launch in late ’99, VW had by this past April shifted only about 13,000 copies of the ballyhooed 3-Liter Lupo. Although both cars use a super-efficient, 1.3L 3-cyl. turbodiesel engine to achieve that magic 3-L fuel consumption, buyers are balking at both cars' prohibitively high prices, reckoning that even with the stratospheric cost of gasoline in Europe, 80 mpg on diesel fuel doesn't justify the initial buy-in price.

Hybrid-vehicle touters beware.