Even before the pandemic, the theft of catalytic converters from the underside of parked vehicles was a problem. Thieves, rummaging for the precious metals included in the auto part, would cut the catalytic converter off the vehicle and then sell it for scrap at a high price.  That price has only risen in the last few years as inflation has sunk its teeth into the scrap metal industry.

And sadly, there wasn't much that could be done about it.  Although police departments across the country - including here, locally in the Twin Ports - started painting identification numbers on them in order to track and prevent their resale on the scrap market.

Now, comes the discovery of a process that replaces the precious metals with something different that doesn't have the resale value.  And - that discovery happened close to home.

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Researchers at the University of Minnesota have announced that they've developed a replacement material for the precious metals.  By their design, all catalytic converters use palladium and rhodium.  Current prices on the market find rhodium trading for prices higher than gold.  That's what makes the unassuming catalytic converter so attractive to thieves.

In a recently published research article, the U of M researchers shared their discovery and invention of a "catalytic condenser" - a so-called "chameleon metal" - that performs the same tasks as the precious metals it's designed to replace:

"This new device electronically converts one metal into behaving like another to use as a catalyst for speeding chemical reactions.  It is the first to demonstrate that alternative materials that are electronically modified to provide new properties can yield faster, more efficient chemical processing.  This breakthrough opens the door for new catalytic technologies using non-precious metal catalysts."

While there is a lot more to the science behind what it does, essentially it would replace current catalytic converters and wouldn't contain the precious metals that thieves are after.

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It's worth noting that while the discovery and invention is being touted as a replacement for the catalytic converters that thieves find so attractive, the process has potential uses in all kinds of other applications.  Researchers from the University of Minnesota shared that it "has the potential to be used in a variety of different ways, like turning wind energy into renewable fuels".

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