17 December 2015

What happens with the environment when your car moves?

Engine is the heart of every car, where the energy of chemical reaction of petroleum combustion is transformed to mechanical energy, which makes the car move. Unfortunately, none of engines are environmentally friendly. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other dangerous compounds are contained in the exhaustive gas mixture. In order to protect the environment from these toxic gases, every modern car is equipped with autocatalyst, which converts exhaustive gases to non-toxic water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The operation of autocatalyst is based on the catalytic reaction, which takes place on the surface of precious metals, namely palladium, platinum and rhodium.

On one hand, autocatalysts are very important to protect environment from gaseous pollution. On the other hand, autocatalysts turned out to have a dangerous drawback and may create a huge problem in the future: particles of metals can be leached off from the catalyst by the gas flow leading to the contamination of the atmosphere, soil and surface water by heavy metals (Pt, Pd, Rh).

Indeed, every modern car equipped with autocatalysts may release toxic heavy metals during engine operation. The fact is currently not widely discussed and remains underestimated.

The present study was conducted by high school student Gleb Rukhovich under supervision of PhD student Leonid Romashov in the laboratory of Prof. Valentine Ananikov at Zelinsky Institute, Moscow. It was shown that contact with water facilitates simple platinum and palladium salts to aggregate into various clusters - chemical species, which contain more than one metal atom. It is an important observation, since toxicity of clusters can significantly exceed toxicity of simple salts. Therefore, eco-toxicological danger of environmental pollution by heavy metals should become a crucial topic nowadays.

More information: Leonid V. Romashov et al. Analysis of model Pd- and Pt-containing contaminants in aqueous media using ESI-MS and the fragment partitioning approach, RSC Adv. (2015). DOI: 10.1039/c5ra22257e