Months after President Nixon proclaimed 1970 the year of the environment, Congress passed the Clean Air Act – setting national air quality and vehicle emission standards – and established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement those standards. The 1970 Act required a 90% reduction in emissions from new cars by 1975, with no exceptions (European countries implemented similar regulations only in 1992). The new air-quality standards strictly limited levels of six pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, and lead. To reach these regulations automakers had to design vehicles that could run on unleaded gasoline and incorporate a new device—the catalytic converter—to reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons from car exhaust by 90%.
The pressure was on to create a new technology to meet these clean-air requirements. Corning answered the challenge in 1971 with the first extruded ceramic substrate based on a material called cordierite, a high temperature, low expansion magnesium aluminosilicate ceramic. Virtually every automotive company in the world today relies on Corning’s cellular ceramic technology invention to control exhaust emissions. Our manufacturing footprint, which started in 1973 with one automotive plant in Erwin, NY has grown to multiple facilities in the United States, Germany and China.
In 1978, Corning developed the first cellular ceramic wall-flow particulate filter to remove soot from diesel emissions. Both of these products, substrates and particulate filters, are manufactured by the company's patented extrusion process and form the core of world-class emissions control systems all around the world.
Would you like to learn the role GM’s president Ed Cole played in the process of developing substrates for catalytic convertors? This story from the American Ceramic Society Bulletin’s April 2020 issue includes details on the technical challenge and on the people behind Corning’s catalytic converter breakthrough.