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News Release
March 31, 1997
Sandia Automotive Technology Team Making Strides on Improved Lean-Burn Engines; Receives Special Recognition from Vice President Gore

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Four automotive researchers from Sandia National Laboratories have received special recognition from Vice President Al Gore for their work in connection with a multi-player initiative aimed at developing a new generation of fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles.

The four -- Tim Gardner, Steven Lockwood, Linda McLaughlin, and Steve Lott -- are among a group of scientists from four other U.S. Department of Energy labs and Chrysler, Ford, and GM to receive the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) medal.

The citation, presented during March 31, 1997, ceremonies in Washington, D.C., recognizes significant scientific progress toward development and eventual commercialization of technologies for advanced catalytic converter systems necessary to meet current and near-future standards for motor vehicle emissions set forth by the Clean Air Act. Priority is placed on reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in exhaust from lean-burn engines.

Lean-burn engines use more air in the combustion cylinder than is chemically required to burn the fuel. "Lean burn" refers to the amount of fuel injected into the cylinder for combustion. The new technology being developed as a result of this work is more energy efficient and aims to reduce smog-producing NOx emissions in automobile exhibit. The government/industry team has been investigating a number of lean NOx catalyst formulations, including technologies such as aerogels, zeolytes, and hydrous metal oxides (HMOs), which are Sandia's specialty.

Specifically, Sandia researchers used their expertise in HMOs, a family of chemicals that when incorporated with catalytically active metals makes them ideally suited for catalytic converter applications. Those characteristics include a high cation (a positively charged ion) exchange capability, high surface area, and flexible process chemistry -- HMOs can be synthesized as bulk material or as a coating preparation.

"The flexibility of the [hydrous metal oxide] chemistry has allowed us to prepare a large number of different oxide support and metal catalyst combinations and screen them for NOx reduction activity in simulated lean-burn automotive exhaust environments," says Tim Gardner of Sandia's Catalysts and Chemical Technologies Department.

Promising catalyst systems were then fabricated on a small scale using HMO coating and ion exchange techniques, and similarly tested, Gardner explains.

The best catalyst systems were then evaluated on a larger scale in both bulk and coated forms, which involved significant process scale-up efforts. "One of the real strengths of our effort," says Lockwood of Sandia's Ceramic and Glass Processing Department, "as our ability to scale-up the HMO coating and ion exchange processes to a full development size (110 cubic inch) catalytic converter.

This scale-up, Lockwood, says, is very important to automakers since it demonstrates the manufacturability of Sandia's HMO-based catalyst processes and allows actual engine testing of these catalyst materials.

"If Detroit doesn't get this problem solved," Lockwood says, "automakers can't sell the lean-burn engine. That means they'll have to come up with another solution [besides lean-burn] to meet the CAFE [Combined Automobile Fleet Efficiency] standards. Based on the high economic stakes, you can see how important it is to develop this lean-burn-enabling technology."

In announcing the award the Vice President said, "This collaboration is a shining example of the public good that comes from cooperative ventures among industry, government and communities. We are putting the 'pedal to the metal' on the creation of technologies for new vehicles that will reduce air pollution, increase fuel efficiency and decrease American reliance on imported oil. The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles will produce new cars for a new century. This provides even more evidence that what is good for the environment is also good for the economy."

The other DOE labs with researchers who were honored as part of the PNGV team: Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

PNGV was established at a 50/50 cost-shared program, with a federal investment of $300 million being matched by USCAR, the research cooperative between Chrysler, Ford, and GM. It's vision is to produce a new generation of vehicles that will deliver triple the fuel efficiency of today's cars and meet Clean Air Act standards without sacrificing affordability, performance or safety.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram national laboratory operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation for the U.S. DOE. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has broad-based research and development programs contributing to national security, energy and environment technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Technical visuals available

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
Media contact:
Rod Geer, wrgeer@sandia.gov (505) 844-6601

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