A two-stage method for NO.sub.x reduction in an oxygen-rich engine exhaust comprises a plasma oxidative stage and a storage reduction stage. The first stage employs a non-thermal plasma treatment of NO.sub.x gases in an oxygen-rich exhaust and is intended to convert NO to NO.sub.2 in the presence of O.sub.2 and hydrocarbons. The second stage employs a lean NO.sub.x trap to convert such NO.sub.2 to environmentally benign gases that include N.sub.2, CO.sub.2, and H.sub.2 O. By preconverting NO to NO.sub.2 in the first stage with a plasma, the efficiency of the second stage for NO.sub.x reduction is enhanced. For example, an internal combustion engine exhaust is connected by a pipe to a first chamber in which a non-thermal plasma converts NO to NO.sub.2 in the presence of O.sub.2 and hydrocarbons, such as propene. A flow of such hydrocarbons (C.sub.x H.sub.y) is input from usually a second pipe into at least a portion of the first chamber. The NO.sub.2 from the plasma treatment proceeds to a storage reduction catalyst (lean NO.sub.x trap) that converts NO.sub.2 to N.sub.2, CO.sub.2, and H.sub.2 O, and includes a nitrate-forming catalytic site. The hydrocarbons and NO.sub.x are simultaneously reduced while passing through the lean-NO.sub.x trap catalyst. The method allows for enhanced NO.sub.x reduction in vehicular engine exhausts, particularly those having relatively high sulfur contents.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.