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Imagine stepping outside for a breath of fresh air-and encountering 3 billion tons of air pollution. According to the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association (MECA), that's how much pollution has been eliminated worldwide (including more than 1.5 billion tons in the U.S. alone) over the past 30 years through the use of catalytic-converter-equipped vehicles. Virtually every automotive company in the world today relies on a system that is based on a cellular ceramic substrate technology pioneered by Corning in 1975 to control exhaust emissions.
Now Corning is at it again-this time with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) and a new generation of substrates designed for diesel engines.
An Enabling TechnologyDPFs based on Corning's technology aren't new; in fact, Corning first introduced the cellular ceramic particulate filter to remove soot from diesel emissions in 1978, just a few years after the famed catalytic converter substrate. But like many environmental technologies, DPFs were initially viewed as an unnecessary luxury since diesel engine manufacturers easily met the emission regulations without the filters. For years, the technology went largely unnoticed, and diesel engines gained a reputation for being dirty and "smelly."
In 2000, the situation began to change with a new rule introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule, which was published in the Federal Register in January 2001,1 requires a substantial reduction in emissions from all heavy-duty vehicle engines by 2007 through a two-pronged approach-ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and exhaust treatment systems. While clean diesel refiners are still working on the fuel requirements, the exhaust treatment systems are already available in the form of catalytic converters (incorporating ceramic substrates), which reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx), and DPFs, which reduce particulate matter (soot).
Of course, Corning's substrate and filter technologies have both come a long way since the '70s. According to Thomas R. Hinman, vice president and general manager of Corning Diesel Technologies, the original diesel substrates featured about 100 cells per square inch and a wall thickness of .017 in. The new automotive thin-wall and ultra-thin-wall substrates feature an extremely high geometric surface area for improved conversion efficiency. The thin-wall 600/4 substrate (used for both gasoline and diesel engines) features 600 cells per square inch and 4 mil walls, while the ultra-thin-wall substrates (used for gasoline engines only) include a 600/3 and 900/2 version.
Corning's cordierite monolithic diesel filters, known as the Corning DuraTrap® RC and Corning DuraTrap® CO filters, also combine a high cell density and optimum wall thickness to provide consistent filtration efficiency of 90% or greater with minimal impact on the performance of the diesel engine.
When used in conjunction with cleaner-burning fuel, these technologies are enabling the development of new "clean diesel" engines that meet stringent environmental regulations and clear the air of harmful emissions.
A Growth OpportunityAll this is good news for the automotive industry, which has long been seeking to promote more widespread use of diesel engines. Even before the new clean diesel technologies, diesel engines were known to offer better fuel economy, long-term durability and lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline engines. Today, with concerns about dependence on foreign oil sources and rising gas prices driving consumers to look for alternatives, diesel is getting increasing attention. This is particularly true in Europe, where diesel engines are being used in passenger cars and light trucks, in addition to heavy-duty applications. According to one report, diesels accounted for 39% of all new car sales in Western Europe in 2001, and that number was expected to climb to 45% by 2005-and as high as 70% with the new "premium luxury" vehicle sales included.2
While diesel passenger cars have yet to achieve market acceptance in the U.S., the tightening emission standards for heavy-duty trucks-including some pickup trucks with diesel engines, such as the Ford F-250 and F-350-are forcing diesel engine manufacturers to look for clean solutions.
These trends are creating a huge opportunity for ceramic substrates and filters. According to Hinman, Corning recorded $12 million in sales of its diesel products in 2001, and revenues increased modestly over the next three years. "But in just the first three months of 2005, sales have already topped $20 million. This momentum is laying the groundwork for a growing business, serving both the passenger and heavy-duty markets," he says.
Hinman notes that the worldwide market for these products will likely exceed $1 billion by 2008. And that doesn't even include the market for off-road vehicles, which will face tougher emissions standards in the U.S.-and therefore require emission control technologies-beginning in 2010.
To meet the increasing demand, Corning has invested heavily in continued research and development and new manufacturing capabilities. In April 2004, the company opened a new $200-million, 250,000-square-foot production facility in Erwin, N.Y., for diesel substrates and particulate filters. Then in Feburary 2005, Corning's board of directors approved a $70 million expansion of the new facility, which will provide additional cutting, firing and finishing capacity. According to Hinman, both the original facility and the expansion are designed to be modular, so that investments in new equipment and capacity can be paced to match the growth rate of the market.
The real key to the success of the new facility, however, lies in its location, which is just a few miles from Corning's corporate R&D center at Sullivan Park in Corning, N.Y. "Although we've been in the environmental business with catalytic converter substrates for more than 30 years, the new diesel substrates and filters require significantly advanced-and rapidly evolving-technologies," explains Hinman. "We're working very aggressively with our research and development teams, so we wanted to locate the plant close to the center of Corning's R&D efforts."
A Holistic ApproachIn addition to promoting rapid technology advances, the plant's proximity to Corning's R&D center also facilitates one other important aspect of the Environmental Technologies business-a "holistic" design approach. Unlike many manufacturers, which tend to focus almost exclusively on the design of their own products, Corning has fostered a collaborative environment with other members in the automotive supply chain.
"We essentially make one part of a very large system," says Hinman. "Even though we're focused on ceramics, we have to be able to understand the world of engines and work collaboratively with other companies in the value chain to effectively design and use our products. I just can't emphasize enough how important that collaboration is.
"This is one of the reasons it's been so crucial to have the plant located so close to our R&D center. We're talking about some very difficult technology challenges-understanding the materials at the microstructural level, understanding very basic characterization techniques, understanding how the materials work or don't work in a given application, and then solving those issues. This requires us to take a holistic systems approach."
This approach is obviously paying off. The company is negotiating multi-year agreements with leading engine manufacturers and also expects to begin supplying a new filter based on aluminum titanate to the European diesel passenger car market later this year. As the market for clean diesel technologies continues to expand, Corning is poised to meet the growing demand.
For more information, visit http://www.corning.com/environmentaltechnologies.com.
References1. 40 CFR Parts 69, 80, and 86: Control of Air Pollution From New Motor Vehicles: Heavy-Duty Engine and Vehicle Standards and Highway Diesel Fuel Sulfur Control Requirements, http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-AIR/2001/January/Day-18/a01a.pdf.
2. "Diesels Are Ready. Why Aren't We?" a presentation by Kurt Liedtke, chairman, president and CEO of Robert Bosch Corp., http://www.boschusa.com/News/ViewNews.asp?NewsType=RA&ID=0.