Title page for ETD etd-05072012-130457

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Belcastro, Elizabeth Lynn
Author's Email Address elbel88@vt.edu
URN etd-05072012-130457
Title Life Cycle Analysis of a Ceramic Three-Way Catalytic Converter
Degree Master of Science
Department Materials Science and Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Clark, David E. Committee Chair
Holbrook, Michele Committee Member
McGinnis, Sean P. Committee Member
Pickrell, Gary R. Committee Member
  • cordierite ceramic
  • passenger car
  • air emission
  • catalytic converter
  • life cycle analysis
Date of Defense 2012-04-23
Availability unrestricted
The life cycle analysis compares the environmental impacts of catalytic converters and the effects of not using these devices. To environmentally evaluate the catalytic converter, the emissions during extraction, processing, use of the product are considered. All relevant materials and energy supplies are evaluated for the catalytic converter. The goal of this life cycle is to compare the pollutants of a car with and without a catalytic converter. Pollutants examined are carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrocarbons (HC), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The main finding is that even considering materials and processing, a catalytic converter decreases the CO, HC and NOx pollutant emissions. The CO2 emissions are increased with a catalytic converter, but this increase is small relative to the overall CO2 emissions. The majority of catalytic converter pollutants are caused by the use phase, not extraction or processing. The life cycle analysis indicates that a catalytic converter decreases damage to human health by almost half, and the ecosystem quality damage is decreased by more than half. There is no damage to resources without a converter, as there are no materials or energy required; the damages with a converter are so small that they are not a significant factor. Overall, catalytic converters can be seen as worthwhile environmental products when considering short term effects like human health effects of smog, which are their design intent. If broader environmental perspectives that include climate change are considered, then the benefits depend on the weighting of these different environmental impacts.
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