Preserving the Environment

This Student-Invented Device Eliminates Almost All of the Emissions from a Very Common Household Polluter

July 15, 2014
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This Student-Invented Device Eliminates Almost All of the Emissions from a Very Common Household Polluter
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Every single gas-powered lawnmower could really use this green upgrade.

Without a doubt, the only thing that’s green about lawns is its color.

We’ve already gone on a long tirade about this expensive and resource-intensive crop, but did you know that simply mowing your grass once a week comes at a hefty environmental price?

Here’s why: The typical gasoline-powered lawnmower is a huge, filthy polluter. The EPA estimates that in a single hour, these mowers emit 11 times the air pollution of a new car that’s driven in the same amount of time. That’s something that the planet — and our lungs — shouldn’t have to go through just for a nice patch of green. (Unless you own an electric mower, of course!)

That’s where NOx-Out comes in. It’s a one-of-a-kind device from the student engineers at the University of California-Riverside (UCR). By fitting this L-shaped pipe over a regular mower’s muffler, it significantly cuts emissions from lawnmowers more than 90 percent. According to a UCR press release, when an earlier version of the NOx-Out was tested, it cut carbon monoxide by 87 percent; nitrogen oxides by 67 percent and particulate matter by 44 percent. In the current version, 93 percent of particulate matter emissions were eliminated.

The device, which won a huge grant from the EPA’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition, works in a three-step process, UCR says. “First, a glass quartz filter captures particulate matter. Then an ultra-fine spray of urea solution is dispersed into the exhaust stream. The urea spray primes the dirty air for the final stage, when a catalyst converts the harmful nitrogen oxide and ammonia into harmless nitrogen gas and water and releases them into the air.”

MORE: Why New Farm and Construction Equipment Will Improve Air Quality and Save Lives

The idea for the NOx-Out came from team member Rosalva Chavez, a UCR environmental engineering student. Chavez suspected that her janitor father, who earned extra money mowing lawns over the weekend, had developed coughing and asthma due to his exposure to emissions via gasoline-powered lawn equipment.

The best news about this story? As TreeHugger found, the UCR campus will be using these devices on their own lawns, and eventually, the entire University of California system could benefit from cleaner air, thanks to the NOx-Out.

UCR says that team is also thinking about commercializing the product once it’s further refined — selling for about $30 each. When 80 percent of Americans live in a home with a lawn, that’s a small price to pay to help out the planet.

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