Cleaner air: Engineered by Corning
For five decades, Corning ceramics have been accelerating a cleaner world. And our scientists keep discovering new ways to use these magical materials to improve the environment.
One of Corning’s greatest triumphs often goes unnoticed. When the enemy is air pollution, that’s precisely the point.
“People have been enjoying continually cleaner air in the 50 years since Corning first brought ceramic-based emission control technologies to vehicle manufacturers,” says Cassandra Taliaferro, vice president and general manager of Corning Environmental Technologies (CET). “By reducing vehicle emissions, our products help everyone breathe easier.”
Emissions from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and trucks have dropped by an incredible 99% since 1975. CET technologies have prevented billions of tons of pollutants like hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and soot particles from entering the atmosphere. Such technologies have helped save 230,000 lives in the U.S. alone, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And Corning scientists continue to find new ways to deploy our ceramic science expertise toward a healthier world.
A serendipitous start to a vital business
The 1970 enactment of the U.S. Clean Air Act spurred automakers to meet strict emissions standards. During a meeting about windshield glass, a General Motors executive challenged Corning to quickly deliver a cost-effective pollution solution instead.
Here, Corning Research Fellow George Beall recounts how Corning mobilized our R&D teams to produce the first ceramic substrates for catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions. Their process and product innovations launched the CET business and the global emissions-control industry, which Corning continues to lead.
Corning’s pollution-fighting ceramic technologies
Corning deploys tough ceramic materials to help clean vehicle exhaust before it exits the tailpipe. Corning’s current environmental technologies fall into two broad categories: substrates and filters.
Ceramic substrates help neutralize invisible, harmful gases through a chemical reaction enabled by a catalytic process inside a vehicle’s catalytic converter.
Ceramic particulate filters use a physical process to help trap health-damaging and smog-creating soot particles as small as 10 nanometers in diameter. [A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.]
Check out these clean-air ceramics in action:
More work to do
As powerful as these solutions are, more can be done to help prevent the 6.7 million annual deaths linked to air pollution exposure.
While all ICE vehicles must use an emissions-control device against noxious gases, many countries have not yet followed Europe and China’s lead in mandating gasoline particulate filters to reduce the release of ultrafine soot particles – mostly black carbon – which can be inhaled into the lungs, damage health, and, in addition, have an outsized impact on global warming.
“However, a warmed-up vehicle equipped with our substrates and filters is practically pollution-free,” says Willard Cutler, CET’s division vice president and commercial technology director.
That “warmed-up” factor is key to improving future outcomes.
A filter works immediately after starting an ICE engine. But a substrate needs 45-60 seconds to get hot enough for the catalysts to attack gaseous pollutants. That first minute of operation produces significant emissions that could be reduced with available Corning technology.
“Corning scientists developed very-low-mass substrates for faster catalyst activation, in addition to a substrate-adjacent product to preheat the substrate to reduce the emissions during cold starts and low load driving conditions,” says Cutler.
Evolving with the changing transportation landscape
Corning sees opportunities in the global shift to more environmentally focused transportation products and policies.
“As officials advocate for even more stringent vehicle emission standards, Corning stands ready with solutions for manufacturers to meet and even exceed them,” says Taliaferro.
“The average U.S. car lasts for 16 years. Even if traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles cease to be produced by 2035, cars equipped with our substrates and filters will continue to minimize emissions through at least 2050,” adds Cutler. “And this also applies to hybrid vehicles using batteries and fossil fuels that will need our advanced emissions-control systems for decades to come.”
CET is also willing to help clean the air inside vehicles . “Adapting our high-filtration efficiency technology to remove 10nm particles and larger can also be used for cabin air filters to improve air quality for drivers and passengers inside any type of future car or truck,” says Cutler.
Meanwhile, Corning scientists are developing ceramic-based solutions to improve battery energy storage for Li-metal batteries — helping accelerate the transition to battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
“Some experts estimate we’ll need infrastructure capable of generating 4 to 5 terawatt-hours to meet full BEV electrification needs [equivalent to outputting ~5 trillion watts per hour],” says Ameya Joshi, CET’s director of emerging technologies, regulations, and electrification. “Anything that improves the efficiency of batteries is going to be important.”
Corning is also contributing to alternative fuel research.
“For example, hydrogen production today is a very expensive, CO2-intensive process. Corning’s ceramics expertise can help better deliver green hydrogen to the market for all kinds of current and future uses,” says Joshi. “And if hydrogen internal combustion engines or other new fuels gain traction, they will still produce emissions requiring robust pollution-control technologies.”
Multiple projects are underway to reduce ambient CO2 already in the atmosphere through direct-air capture technology. Air cycles through sorbent-coated ceramic-based materials which help adsorb the CO2. The concentrated CO2 can then be pushed into the ground and sequestered, or used to create useful compounds.
With point-source capture technology, teams are working to deploy ceramic substrates to help extract CO2 from exhaust at industrial sites. The captured CO2 is then sequestered for permanent storage or use.
“We know the world needs to decarbonize quickly and continue to improve air quality for healthier communities,” says Taliaferro. “Corning is well-positioned to rise to the challenge and help solve these tough problems.”