We can all breathe easier thanks to New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) alumnus John J. Mooney, of Glen Rock. In 1971, Mooney, working as a chemical engineer at the former Engelhard Industries (now BASF Corporation) co-invented the three-way automotive catalytic converter. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, this innovation is one of the ten most important ones in automotive history.
During NJIT’s upcoming May 17, 2007 graduation ceremony in Continental Airlines Arena, 9 a.m.-noon, Mooney will receive an honorary doctorate. (EDITORS NOTE: To interview Mooney, call Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436.)
Born and raised in Paterson, Mooney went to work for PSE&G immediately following high school while pursuing a degree in chemistry. He soon learned that he could readjust his professional focus and pursue graduate studies in chemical engineering at Newark College of Engineering (NCE).
While studying, Mooney remained employed by PSE&G’s gas utilization laboratory. This experience would be valued by his next employer, Engelhard Industries (now BASF Catalysts, a division of BASF) where Mooney spent 43 years before retiring in 2003. The company had developed a process for the U.S. Air Force that used a ruthenium catalyst to produce hydrogen from liquid ammonia. The catalytic system made it easier for the Air Force to supply hydrogen for weather balloons, since it was more efficient to ship liquid ammonia to distant locations than cylinders of gas.
Another innovative application of catalytic technology became the focus of Mooney’s work as the process engineer for the company’s chemical division, which was then headed by Carl D. Keith. The association brought results to the company’s nascent efforts to develop a catalytic approach to cutting undesirable vehicular emissions and they developed a “monolithic” catalytic converter that greatly reduced emissions from propane-fueled forklifts.
For Mooney and the Engelhard team, the Intercollegiate Clean Air Car Race of 1970 was the ideal opportunity to prove the environmental effectiveness and commercial potential of their first-generation catalytic converter. The cars with the catalytic converters demonstrated the best combination of commercial practicality and emissions reduction—releasing 90 percent less hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide to the atmosphere than their non-catalytic counterparts. However, nitrogen oxide control with exhaust gas recirculation was inadequate. A unique solution was discovered: the three-way catalytic converter, which permitted destruction of the three exhaust pollutants in a single catalytic bed. The three-way converter was first included in assembly-line cars for the 1976 model year. In combination with an oxygen sensor, the single catalytic bed in this type of converter greatly reduces emission of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.
In 2002, the president of the United States awarded Mooney the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor for science and technology. He also has been recognized by the Finnish Academies of Technology, which awarded him and Keith the prestigious Walter Ahlstrom Prize in 2001. This honor recognizes advances in the industrial use of energy and natural resources that also contribute to social well-being. Over the years, as some 17 patents attest, Mooney has continued to expand the potential of catalytic technology for reducing emissions. One of his recent patents applies to small two-stroke engines, which are among the worst of internal-combustion polluters.