VOLVO IS PUTTING so-called smog-eating radiators on its new S80 sedan. Rival Ford rejected the technology as ineffective.
Volvo said it would offer Engelhard Corp.'s PremAir technology on S80 radiators, beginning in spring 1999. Volvo hopes to sell as many as 100,000 of the cars worldwide next year
PremAir is a catalyst-based coating applied to a radiator. No other modification is required. As air passes over the treated radiator, ozone molecules are converted to smaller oxygen molecules. Volvo said its tests showed that up to 75 percent of the ozone in the air that passes over the radiator undergoes this conversion.
At ground level ozone causes smog, a health hazard. The combination of sunlight and unburned hydrocarbons from vehicle exhaust is one cause of ozone.
Volvo said it may put the Engelhard technology on other cars.
Use of the PremAir coating is in line with Volvo's policy of producing environmentally sound vehicles, said Jeannine Fallon, a spokeswoman for Volvo Cars of North America Inc., and this 'is just one more reason to buy a Volvo.'
Ford tested the smog-eating radiator concept in 1995 and was, for a time, enthusiastic about the prospects for PremAir. Engelhard said Ford found no technological or cost problems with the technology.
The problem was volume.
Ford said that not enough air passes through a radiator to make much of a difference in fighting air pollution.
'It was just a decision based on how much good it does for the environment,' said Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio.
Engelhard said Volvo is using PremAir technology similar to that tested by Ford, but the coating is cheaper and has a better ozone-to-oxygen conversion rate.
Ford tested a precious-metal-based catalyst that would have added $500-$1,000 in cost to a vehicle, said Terry Poles, director of new ventures at Engelhard, which is based in Iselin, New Jersey. The precious-metal catalyst targeted both ozone and carbon monoxide.
$50 per vehicle
But with vehicle fleets running cleaner as older cars are retired, Volvo and Engelhard decided to focus only on ozone, Poles said. That allowed Engelhard to switch to a proprietary base-metal catalyst that adds less than $50 in cost to a Volvo vehicle.
Poles said Engelhard is working with regulatory agencies to come up with a realistic mathematical model that will show how much ozone is being converted with the PremAir technology. Modeling ozone levels is a highly complex procedure, he added. 'It's not just your vehicle's own pollution you're cleaning up but any source of atmospheric pollution.'
Volvo said that while the Engelhard technology makes little difference in areas where ozone is not a problem, in heavily polluted urban areas the PremAir technology helps to reduce ozone levels.