Platinum is a precious metal and one of the key materials (known as a catalyst) found inside a catalytic converter. In this post, we’re going to share the role that platinum plays in helping remove harmful gases from your car’s exhaust, as well as how many ounces of platinum is in a catalytic converter.
Each manufacturer determines the amount of platinum needed inside a catalytic converter based on exhaust flow and capacity needed. On average, there are 3 to 7 grams of platinum inside an average catalytic converter, however, this amount can vary amongst catalytic converters.
Some catalytic converters, like those found on hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, contain higher amounts of platinum.
Let’s dig into the details.
What is platinum and where does it come from?
Platinum is a rare and valuable metal. Platinum can be found in ores such as nickel, copper, and coal. It can also be found in the ground as a natural byproduct of other mining operations. It is then refined through a process called electrolysis to separate it from other metals and purify it for use.
In the United States, platinum is used to produce catalytic converters for cars and other vehicles for the purpose of reducing vehicle pollution. It is also used in jewelry, dentistry, electronics, and chemical processing to name just a few of its usages.
The largest deposits of platinum are found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Russia, Canada, and the United States. 95% of the world’s supply is estimated to come from Africa, with the last 5% or so coming from the remaining countries.
Why is platinum used in catalytic converters?
With over a billion vehicles in operation worldwide, exhaust gases would wreak havoc on the environment if it were not for catalytic converters. Inside the catalytic converter are precious metal catalysts, like rhodium, palladium, and platinum, that chemically react with the toxic gases in your car’s exhaust to convert them into less harmful gases and water vapor.
Platinum plays a major role in this process by collecting oxygen atoms and allowing them to bind to carbon monoxide as the exhaust flows through the honeycomb-like chambers inside the catalytic converter. As the oxygen atoms bind to the carbon monoxide it turns it into carbon dioxide which is a less harmful gas. (Source: Phys.org: Mechanism behind platinum catalyst captured)
Platinum also has a very high level of resistance to heat and oxidation (rust) which makes it the perfect material to be used in catalytic converters which are exposed to the elements and high exhaust temperatures.
What other metals are used in a catalytic converter besides platinum?
There are two other common precious metals that are used in catalytic converters besides platinum. These metals are rhodium and palladium. These metals are more expensive than platinum, but they have better performance when it comes to reducing emissions from cars.
The role of these metals, along with platinum is to reduce the level of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons that come out of the exhaust pipe.
It is important to note that the amount of rhodium and palladium in a catalytic converter is much less than platinum and other less common metals may be used in some cases.
Protecting Your Catalytic Converter
As you can see, the catalytic converter is an essential component of your car’s exhaust system. It serves a vital role to ensure cleaner air and less pollution.
However, due to the skyrocketing cost of platinum and other precious metals, along with supply chain issues, catalytic converters are targeted by thieves. Catalytic converters are easy to access on most cars making them an easy target for thieves looking for quick cash. Most stolen catalytic converters are sold to scrupulous scrap yards and metal reclamation centers.
To avoid catalytic converter theft, you should take extra precautions on your vehicle due to the high replacement cost than can cost several hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the model. Therefore to best protect your car, try to park inside a closed garage, install catalytic converter guards and alarms, and/or paint and etch your catalytic converter(s) making it harder for thieves to resell.