Catalyst technology is rapidly developing and evolving in order to meet a number of challenges posed by regulations, engine configurations, different driving conditions and market needs and the availability of Rare Earths materials.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Arnaud Wisnia, Global Business Director, Catalysis General Manager, Europe for Solvay Rare Earth Systems, how Solvay sees the challenges.
Wisnia: The biggest challenge is the increasingly strict regulations. We have the Euro 6 regulations coming in place in Europe, Euro 4 and Euro 5 in China and India. There is an Increasing pressure and impact on the design, regulation and development of the systems for emissions control. Another big challenge is the control of costs in the face of high inflation in the price of many components and development systems. Due to the regulations we see the cost of systems spiraling â€“ for diesel in particular. The third important challenge is the security supply of critical material â€“ Rar e Earths.
AI: How are you meeting the challenges?
Wisnia: We have several new product ranges. For the gasoline, OPTALYSâ„¢ is a new generation of our zirconium-rich material. Another is a range of purpose-designed alumina products. The objective is to increase material performance to pass stringent regulation without the need to increase supply. In the case of emerging markets we are globalizing production, while still producing raw materials in our plants in La Rochelle (France) and Cincinnati (US).
We opened two new plants in the last two years â€“ in Japan and China. This is to position ourselves to serve the emerging markets to the expected standards and to supplement our two existing lines in the EU and US for the next 5-10 years. The other challenge is securing Rare Earth supplies. We have a strategic supply partnership in China where we work with CHINALCO and outside of China we are strategic partner of Tantalus. We are also developing sourcing partnerships with other players both for light and heavy Rare Earths.
AI: Diesel v Gasoline, how is Solvay positioned in the market?
Wisnia: Compared to our competitors, we probably have the broadest range of materials. Our materials improve performance and reliability of diesel emission control systems to tackle the particulates in conjunction with diesel particulate filters and to reduce the NOx with the NOx storage and SCR catalysts. At the same time we are constantly improving our materials for the Gasoline emissions control. Another strength is that we have independent supply chains for China and the rest of the world.
AI: How do you see the diesel market developing?
Wisnia: The market is really driven by the availability of fuel and the output of the oil refineries. There is very well established diesel market in Europe, while there are historical challenges in the US for passenger cars. This is still very dynamic market with the introduction of Euro 6 and post Euro 6 regulations. We have a number of new developments in India where diesel vehicles are consistently taking a bigger market share due to a diesel taxes policy.
In Russia, South America and China diesel vehicles are making inroads in the commercial vehicle, pick-up and SUV segments.
AI: What challenges do the new engine and powertrain technologies present to Solvay?
Wisnia: Gasoline direct injection is the big trend in the gasoline market. This is really a good thing from CO2 emissions focus, but a challenge for the particulate emissions as recently seen with Euro 6 as standard in Europe. This is a new market for us and our customers, the catalyst manufacturers. A second important trend is the increasing number of dual fuel engines – biofuel engines, and gas engines using the same exhaust configuration, which means that the design to be much more versatile to adapt to these different conditions.
For example, the catalyst design for the start/stop system has to be adapted to different countries because in some places you will never get the temperature needed to perform the normal catalyst function.
AI: What solutions are you working on at present?
Wisnia: A new generation of mixed oxides which we started to introduce last year with the objective of optimizing sulfur resistance and thermal stability. For some customers we have increased the thermal stability range. For others we have increased the performance flexibility using the same technology. The second one is based on acidic alumina/zirconia or alumina/silica – these materials provide stability together with minimum sulfation possibility. This is pretty important in the commercial market where the fuel quality is an issue.
We are introducing materials for NOx storage and SCR catalysts for diesel markets. In the field of SCR catalysts materials, we promote Non-Zeolitic Acidic Zirconia materials that are very efficient and thermal stable catalysts. And finally, we have fuel additive to assist diesel particulate filters regeneration during cold vehicle operations – EOLYS. We supply an injection system to adapt this additive to engines as a retrofit solution. A: On what level do you co-operate with OEMs? Wisnia: Our work is not directly with the OEMs, but with the catalyst manufacturers where we are clearly positioned as a materials supplier.
Our objective is to supply the right materials to ensure our customers remain competitive. We tailor our materials to meet the specific needs of our customers. Where we have some cooperation with OEMs is for diesel fuel additives. In that case we supply both the materials and the injection system to deliver the fuel additive into the diesel fuel. The objective is not only to assist the diesel particulate filter regeneration, but also to protect the fuel injection system during the vehicle operation under fuel quality issues: Eolys PowerFlexÂ® was launched in the European market in 2010 and will be implemented in the emerging markets soon.
AI: What innovations do you see in the gasoline and diesel hybrid segments?
Wisnia: There are number of challenges with the hybrid engine, particularly the temperature profile, and the on/off period. We have a range of materials that are specifically suited to the gasoline hybrid engine which we have commercialized for OEMs like Toyota. We have a lead in the hybrid market and are working closely with all of our catalyst customers in the hybrid segment which is offering a lot of potential.
AI: How do you maintain your leadership in the field?
Wisnia: We have specialized R&D centers to take advantage of skills and also proximity to the customers in different regions. Our R&D network consists of two centers in Europe, one in US, and two in Asia. We believe that the direct contact with the customer is the best way to develop the materials they need. Since we became part of the Solvay group we also started to work with Solvay R&D to identify cross-fertilization opportunities.
To give you a couple of examples: Solvay is a large player in strontium and barium which are two important elements for alumina. Solvay has a large presence in specialty polymers and we started to look at the ways to use the materials in our fuel additive systems. Also Solvay is an investor in a company that is looking at ammonia storage, which will help us strengthen our position in the SCR catalyst systems for diesel applications.