Umicore enabling Europe’s drive for clean air

Regional website Germany

Brussels, 4 June 2013. During the European Commission’s Green Week on clean air, Umicore announced the commissioning of its new dedicated production line for heavy duty diesel (HDD) catalysts in Florange, France. To cater for upcoming demand Umicore recently announced that an additional line would be built at the plant.

Production will also start shortly at Umicore’s new automotive catalyst plant in Bad Säckingen, Germany. The catalysts made at these facilities will enable car producers and engine manufacturers to meet new European emission standards.

Since the 1970s the number of vehicles including trucks and buses on our roads has grown enormously. Over the years governments have introduced air quality standards to reduce the harmful effects of automotive emissions on human health and today almost all new cars produced in the world contain an automotive catalyst. In Europe the new Euro 6 standard aims among others to lower emissions of NOx (nitrogen oxides) in diesel cars by more than 50% and also targets emissions of soot particles in gasoline engines.

Umicore’s catalysts enable improvements to air quality by transforming harmful vehicle emissions through sophisticated catalytic processes. Umicore has been helping vehicle manufacturers reduce emissions for 40 years and its catalysts can be found on around one in every three cars produced worldwide today.

Marc Grynberg, Umicore's CEO commented: "Umicore has unique expertise to support the growth of clean mobility around the world. We provide the automotive industry with technologies in emission abatement as well as materials for use in the batteries and fuel cells that are the enablers of electrified transportation. Our recycling offering is also unique as we are able to recycle automotive catalysts, spent batteries and fuel cell materials.”

Umicore started its development activities for automotive emission control catalysts in 1968. Since then it has grown to become a leading player for automotive catalysts in light duty (cars) and, more recently, has also established a strong position in heavy duty applications (trucks, …). Umicore’s automotive catalyst activity employs around 2,000 people worldwide in 11 production sites in Germany, Canada, South Korea, South Africa, US, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, France and China. Umicore also has 6 technology development & testing facilities in Germany, US, Brazil, South Korea, Japan and China.

To see how Umicore contributes to cleaner air: 

Note to editors

About the Florange and Bad Säckingen plants

The Florange site is located 25 kilometers from Metz in Eastern France and has been producing automotive catalysts since 1990. It is Umicore’s main production site for heavy duty catalysts in Europe.

The Bad Säckingen plant is located close to the Rhein river in Southern Germany and is approximately 15 km from Umicore’s Rheinfelden plant. It provides the necessary production expansion room for the Rheinfelden plant with state of the art technology to prepare for the new legislative standards in Europe for light duty applications.

About automotive catalysts and how they work

Internal combustion engines, as used on cars, trucks and buses, produce toxic emissions. The main pollutants are carbon monoxide (CO), unburned hydrocarbons (HC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). The legislators in different countries and regions have put limits on these emissions which have been tightened over time. By fitting a tailor-made catalytic converter system on the exhaust and adapting the engine operating conditions, these emissions can be rendered largely harmless.

Most catalytic converters consist of a chemically active washcoat deposited on a substrate. The washcoat comprises a combination of various oxides and metals, such as platinum, palladium, rhodium and rare earths.

These are manufactured according to a precise formulation and tailored to specific vehicle models and types.

Most present-day vehicles that run on gasoline are fitted with a ’three way’ catalyst (TWC), so named because it converts the three main pollutants in one catalytic system. Carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbon are oxidised into less harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapour, while NOx gases are reduced back to nitrogen (N2). Currently most gasoline engines reach the emission standards set for particulate matter. With upcoming Euro 6 legislation in Europe, however, direct injection gasoline engines are likely to also require a gasoline particulate filter to meet emission standards for particulate matter.

Today diesel cars in Europe, where most diesel cars are used, contain a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), which oxidises the carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbon. They are also fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to limit the emissions of particulate matter. As a diesel engine operates with excess oxygen, the reduction of NOx gases is not possible directly in the exhaust system. Up to now emission standards for diesel in Europe were more tolerant for NOx gases. With upcoming Euro 6 legislation a dedicated catalyst will be needed. This can either be a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system, which uses a urea additive, or a NOx storage catalyst (NSC).

Heavy duty diesel (HDD) engines, used in buses, trucks, trains and other equipment are increasingly becoming subject to emission legislation. The sizes of the engines of such applications create additional complexity.

Technology firsts: Umicore was the first company to develop NOx storage catalysts for fuel efficient lean burn gasoline engines and diesel engines in North America, catalysed diesel particulate filters and also diesel catalysts that were able to use palladium instead of platinum.

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