When postdoctoral research chemist Alexandre Goguet moved to Queen's University from Lyon in France, he intended to stay for just a year. Captivated by his work at the leading edge of catalysis, he's still there, more than 10 years later.
Not many researchers have the distinction of helping to develop a product whose technological significance has been ranked alongside such artefacts of modern living as the halogen lamp, liquid crystal displays and high definition television.
One who has is senior lecturer Alexandre Goguet who for the past three years has been working on an EPSRC project alongside the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.
"Our research team first became involved with the American laboratory when they produced a prototype of an instrument that could measure the progression of gasses through a vehicle's catalytic converter.
"This allowed scientists for the first time to look under the bonnet and study the physical and chemical processes taking place within the converter. Previously the only way they could investigate what was happening inside was to sample the emissions before and after the catalytic process and compare the results.
"Our job was to use our expertise to make a number of fundamental improvements to the instrument's performance and then help to transform it from a proof of concept prototype into a marketable product.
"The collaboration proved really successful. The instrument is known as a 'spatially resolved capillary inlet mass spectrometer' and it is now being manufactured by a specialist UK company. A truck manufacturer has used it to help meet recently introduced US emission control standards three years ahead of schedule. It has also won a prestigious R&D 100 Product of the Year award for its technological significance.
"We have also developed a complete set of software tools for collecting, scanning and analysing the large volumes of data it produces and this too is being sold commercially. "The end result of our collective efforts is that we have developed the most advanced piece of equipment of its kind. It can produce highly accurate, three-dimensional, moving pictures of catalytic processes in vehicle systems. Before we became involved it was only capable of producing two-dimensional information.
"We are at the point where we are collaborating with a number of potential customers who are currently evaluating the instrument. They include leading Japanese and American car manufacturers as well as a major UK catalysts producer.
"Catalytic converters for petrol engines are now pretty advanced. With the fuels of the future, however, it's a different story. They are completely unexplored territory for this kind of research.
"Our equipment provides an ideal test bed for this type of work. I believe it has a vital role to play in developing the highly efficient, environmentally friendly fuel handling systems of tomorrow."
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