The plasmatron is an oil reformer that rides near the engine. It converts various fuels into high-quality, hydrogen rich gas. Adding a small amount of this gas to diesel exhaust is known to help reduce pollutants. When used with an exhaust treatment catalyst on a diesel-engine bus, up to 90% of nitrogen oxides were removed from emissions.

The plasmatron reformer also halved the amount of fuel needed for the removal process. "The absorption catalyst approach under consideration for diesel-exhaust NOx removal requires additional fuel to work," explains Daniel Cohn, head of the Plasma Technology Div. at MIT. "The plasmatron reformer reduced that amount of fuel by a factor of two compared to a system without the plasmatron."

The goal is to have the plasmatron in production and in vehicles by 2010. Currently, Tier-One automotive supplier ArvinMeritor is working with a vehicle concept specialist company to build a proof-of-concept vehicle that incorporates the plasmatron in an internal combustion engine.