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Nanoarchitectures for Air Purification

Butterfly-inspired coating for catalytic converters that dramatically lowers the cost of cleaning air

Illnesses caused by air pollution are the third-leading cause of death in developing nations, and over 5 million people worldwide die every year from air pollution exposure. Catalytic converters, the most widely used air purification devices, convert the toxic gases and pollutants produced by fuel combustion into benign chemicals before the exhaust is released into the atmosphere. However, catalytic converters are very expensive because the catalysts required for the cleaning reactions are precious metals, which account for 70-90% of the cost of manufacturing the converters. Additionally, they are inefficient, because the precious metal particles are embedded randomly in the catalytic coating and, therefore, some never come into contact with the pollutants they are meant to clean.

The Wyss Institute is developing a new type of coating for catalytic converters that, inspired by the nanoscale structure of a butterfly’s wing, can dramatically reduce the cost and improve the performance of air purification technologies, making them more accessible to all. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

We can precisely place the nanoparticles in our porous architecture and make them fully accessible to exhaust gasses, which dramatically improves our coating’s performance and makes it much cheaper and accessible.

Tanya Shirman
Nanoarchitectures for Air Purification
The butterfly-wing-inspired architecture allows precious metal catalysts (white) to be strategically placed on the porous scaffold (gray) so that the catalytic reaction is much more efficient and cost-effective. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Researchers at the Wyss Institute and Harvard SEAS have developed a new type of catalytic coating that is inspired by the honeycomb-like nanostructure of a butterfly’s wing. This underlying structure creates channels through which air can flow unimpeded, and the precise placement of catalysts on the structure maximizes the efficiency of the catalysis reactions while significantly decreasing the amount of precious metals needed. These coatings can be easily integrated into the existing $20B catalytic converter industry, and their lower cost could extend the market for catalytic converters to lower-income countries and consumers for home air purification use.

This technology has been licensed.

Banner image of Green Cattleheart (Parides childrenae) butterfly used with permission from the Museum of Life and Science, Durham, NC.
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