Photo of John J. Mooney

John J. Mooney

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Automotives

For the invention, application to automobiles, and commercialization of the three-way catalytic converter. Through their persistent efforts, this technology is the key emission-control component in all new light-duty vehicles in the United States and throughout the world.

John Mooney describes the function of a catalytic converter

John J. Mooney’s invention of the three-way catalytic converter has not only spared the environment billions of tons of automobile exhaust pollutants since its introduction in the mid-1970s; it’s saved lives.

Mooney, along with chemist Carl D. Keith and a team at Engelhard Corporation, improved the original catalytic converter—which was able to scrub hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide from automobile exhaust but ineffective in reducing nitrogen oxides—by creating a model that could take care of all three gases.

As a result, the device has made an incredible impact in curbing smog and eliminating some of the most damaging side effects of the internal combustion engine on the environment and on human life.

An Environmental Protection Agency report, for example, estimated Mooney’s invention helped save 100,000 lives and stave off hundreds of thousands of cases of throat and lung ailments.

A native of New Jersey, Mooney spent 10 years working for the Public Service Electric and Gas Company while working on his Bachelor of Science degree at Seton Hall University. After graduation, he spent time in the U.S. Army before resuming his studies in chemical engineering at Newark College of Engineering, now known as New Jersey Institute of Technology.

After graduate school, Mooney went to work at Engelhard Corporation, where he spent 43 years of his career. He retired as the firm’s technical director in 2002, before starting the Environmental and Energy Technology and Policy Institute, a not-for-profit company through which he has worked with the United Nations Environmental Program on the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles.

He has authored or co-authored more than 70 publications, and he holds 17 U.S. patents.

By Sydni Dunn