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NxtGen Cleaning up diesel burn


February 19, 2010
by Noelle Stapinsky, Features Editor

Erik Johannes (left), vice-president of product engineering, and president and CEO Jeremy Holt holding a component from NxtGen’s syngas diesel particulate filter system, designed for retrofits or installation on new vehicles during assembly.

Photo: NxtGen

The catalytic converter was introduced in automobiles fuelled by unleaded gasoline in the 1970s when government regulations forced automakers to reduce emissions. Now the same regulations are being applied to diesel engines. Both the US and Canadian environmental regulators required the use of catalytic particulate filters for all diesel engines in 2007 and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission systems are to be added this year. Ultra-low-sulphur diesel must also be available across North America. Since diesel emissions have to be reduced by 10 times their previous levels, catalytic particulate filters are needed for retrofits and diesel engine manufacturing.

NxtGen Emission Controls Inc. intends to fill this need. Its innovative technology makes existing and new internal combustion engines cleaner and more efficient.

The Richmond, BC-based company, founded in 2004 by former employees of Ballard Power Systems and QuestAir Technologies, started working on a NOx exhaust filter in 2005. But when the first diesel particulate regulation was implemented in 2007, NxtGen didn’t jump into the development of reduced particulate technology. “We thought the power train industry already had a good solution,” says Brian Kahnert, NxtGen’s vice-president of marketing and government relations.

But the company discovered that although catalytic systems worked well for diesel engines that reached 275 degrees C, trucks often idle, stop and go and make various stops for deliveries in city environments. As a result, the diesel fuel was not getting hot enough to regenerate, so the converter systems were plugging up and stalling the engine.

NxtGen found injecting synthesis gas (syngas) into lean NOx traps (LNT) converted the pollution into nitrogen and water.

“What we wanted to contribute was not so much a pollution control system that moves the pollution in engines around, but a solution to the problem,” says Kahnert. “Basically, [with the LNT] you’ve taken a harmful substance that contributes to ground level ozone and lung disease and turned it into [substances] that are benign.”

The company’s proprietary technology has miniaturized the production of syngas from hydrocarbon-based fuels such as diesel and gasoline, and it can also produce syngas from biofuels and natural gas.