leaving the area and noted a catalytic converter had been removed from a vehicle parked nearby. The continued to search the area, located the SUV and made the stop. During the initial investigation, …
leaving the area and noted a catalytic converter had been removed from a vehicle parked nearby. The continued to search the area, located the SUV and made the stop. During the initial investigation, they observed power tools and a catalytic converter in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. The three occupants were arrested for Felony theft.
This catch would not have been possible without the quick response from residents in the area. But why are catalytic converters so popular for thieves? Looking at the history of catalytic converters might explain the sudden increase in thefts.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Catalytic Converters are one of the greatest environmental inventions of all times because they reduce most of the toxic car emissions by 99 percent. But why are thefts of these items so popular among thieves? Before that can be answered, let’s look at what they do and what they are made of.
When you drive your vehicle, the engine burns a mixture of gasoline and oxygen to produce the energy that moves the vehicle. The burning of the gasoline produces a variety of hydrocarbons. If engines were 100 percent efficient at burning those hydrocarbons, the complete combustion would combine them with oxygen and form two things: carbon dioxide and water vapor.
Because the real-world application of combustion engines is not 100% efficient, the combustion piece leaves toxic gasses like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide that leave the combustion chambers and exit through the exhaust system. Thankfully, in the 1970s, there were regulations put in place to curb that and thus, the catalytic converter was invented, and they are effective at their jobs.
As the toxic fumes make their way through the exhaust system, they pass through the catalytic converter before reaching the muffler and out the tail pipe. Mufflers are simply there to reduce the sound of the combustion, that is their only role, catalytic converters do all the heavy lifting.
Inside the catalytic converter is a series of plates made up of platinum, rhodium, and palladium. The fist combination is platinum and rhodium. These two metals speed up what is called a reduction reaction. The reduction reaction is when a compound loses an atom, in this case, oxygen. Platinum and rhodium reduce the toxic nitrogen oxide from the imperfect combustion process by pulling the oxygen atom out. The oxygen is then released as a gas and the remaining compound is reduced to nitrogen gas, both of which are harmless.
After the first conversion, platinum and palladium speed up an oxidation reaction, the opposite of the reduction reaction from above. The two metals gather oxygen and use them to oxidize the leftover hydrocarbons from the gasoline and carbon monoxide to, for the most part, produce carbon dioxide and water. Again, it’s not 100% efficient, but a significant change from nothing in the 70’s.
Of course, over the past decades, these devices have become more and more efficient and effective, but that also means their contents become more and more rare. Platinum, palladium, and rhodium are all extremely rare metals. Extremely rare means that as more of these materials are used, the more price goes up. The demand for them is way up because they are also used in many electronics aside from the auto industry.
According to scitechdaily.com, in 2016, rhodium was roughly $600 per ounce, now, it is over $21,000 per ounce, which is 10 times that of gold. One catalytic converter has roughly $400 of rhodium in it. That does not factor in the platinum, which is currently at $1,200 per oz and palladium, which is $2,800 per oz. Just with the three raw materials, the average converter has over $600 of those materials in them.
Converters brought to scrapyards can yield over $1000 per converter. Currently, the salvage yards do not track much from the buyers, they simply get an ID for who to write the check out too. Many representatives at the State Capitol are looking to solve that through legislation.
Senator Karla Bigham (D-Cottage Grove) and Representative Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) both replied very quickly when asked if they are working on this at the Capitol.
On Thursday, Rep Jurgens initial reply was, “Yes this is something I’ve been working on all session. We are on the house floor now debating the commerce bill that has provisions included.”
Senator Bigham’s reply arrived at nearly the same time, “Yes! It is in the Commerce Committee agreement. It is being voted on now in the House.”
Both are at the Capitol working as part of the special session called by Governor Tim Walz. Shortly after their initial ‘YES!’ emails, they followed up with more details.
Senator Bigham stated, “The GOP Senate did not and would not hear any proposed bills regarding catalytic converters. There were two bills introduced that were bipartisan, including mine with Sen. Housley. The Senate GOP did not include any catalytic converter provision during regular session. The House heard and voted out a proposal in their final bill in the regular session. It was accepted in the ‘working group’ during special session.
* Requires any person who purchases or receives a catalytic converter to record any numbers, bar codes, or unique markings and the name of the person who removed the converter.
* Establishes a pilot program to place unique ID numbers on catalytic converters. Also requires commissioner to establish a procedure to mark converters, work with law enforcement and scrap metal dealers to identify types of vehicles most at risk of theft, prioritize distribution of materials to areas with the highest rates of theft, and make educational materials available.
This topic was one of the most emailed topics to me all session. I am very pleased we were able to get something through the legislature during the special session. There is definitely more work to be done on this issue next year, but this is a good start.”
Rep Jurgens echoed the details of the commerce bill. “The commerce bill has a pilot program that would put an identifying marking (i.e. VIN) on catalytic converters of the vehicles most commonly hit. Part of the problem is that there are no serial numbers or VINs on the cats to identify them or tie them back to a specific vehicle.”
Additionally, some parts of the bill would require all buyers of catalytic converters to adhere to the same requirements that scrap metal recycler do. All recyclers are currently required to record additional information from the people they are buying catalytic converters from.
“I went to a recycling center in South St. Paul. They showed me around and showed me the process. When somebody comes in with catalytic converters detached from the vehicle, they are already gathering information. They have video of the license plate number when they come in, they get pictures of the drivers license. The thieves, for the most part, are not taking them to these dealers to recycle them,” explained Jurgens.
The issue is “bad actors” buying converters and taking them out of MN to recycle them at scrap buyers that are in states with less restrictions. They arrange these meet ups in a parking lot somewhere, pay cash for the converter, then take dozens, if not hundreds across state lines to recyclers. The idea of the bill is to help prevent those folks from buying converters without the proper documentation. If a vehicle were pulled over with a converter in it, the driver would need to prove ownership or face forfeiture and possible legal action.
The hope is, this bill will pass, it’s just a matter of time. If passed, it would be effective August 1, 2021. For a full copy of the bill, visit www.revisor.mn.gov and search for HF2603.