A catalytic converter reduces the amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides that your car emits. Catalytic converters are responsible for the largest reduction of emissions since the invention of the automobile; even more than hybrid and electric cars! Electric cars have no local emissions, but a majority of the electricity used to charge these batteries in Utah comes from steam turbines which are powered by the burning of coal. Two of the closest coal power plants are only about 100 miles away from Downtown Salt Lake City.
The way catalytic converters work is they use a catalyst to initiate a chemical reaction that turn these harmful chemicals into harmless ones. The catalyst is a ceramic honeycomb structure that is coated with a mixture of platinum, rhodium, and palladium. This mixture varies based on how far away the converter is from the engine. The closer it is, the more rhodium is in the mixture and the more expensive it ends up being. As the exhaust gases flow into this structure, the metal reacts with the chemicals, creating the less toxic wastes of carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen, which are expelled out of the car. The reasons converters fail is they eventually get too coated from the exhaust gases and the metals are no longer reacting with the chemicals. Fortunately, the metals never deteriorate, and the old converter is melted down and recycled into a new converter.