Getting The Catalytic Converter Warmed Up Pronto

Turn your car's ignition key, and for the next couple of minutes, the engine will spew out more pollution than during the entire commute to work. That's because the catalytic converter needs to be good and hot before it's effective at taming noxious gases such as nitrogen oxides.

Solution: Preheat the converter. Detroit has been reluctant to adopt that idea, says Texaco Inc. President James W. Kinnear, on the theory that most people won't sit still while the preheater does its work. So Kinnear himself has patented a system that could switch on the heater remotely, from inside the house, using a radio transmitter similar to a garage-door opener.

Progress in catalytic-converter research at Corning Inc. may usurp the need for a remote control, however. Corning's latest prototype converter reaches operating temperature in just five seconds, thanks to a clever design that reduces the mass of the metal that requires preheating. So a switch in the driver's door handle could do the trick.

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