Saturday, November 15, 2008

Deceased--Carl D. Keith

Carl D. Keith
May 29th, 1920 to November 9th, 2008

"Carl D. Keith, a Father of the Catalytic Converter, Dies at 88"


Dennis Hevesi

November 15th, 2008

The New York Times

Carl D. Keith, a co-inventor of the three-way automotive catalytic converter — a major advance in eliminating the toxic tailpipe emissions that once blanketed cities in smog — died Sunday while visiting one of his daughters in New Bern, N.C. He was 88 and lived on Marco Island in Florida.

His grandson Leonard Hardesty Jr. confirmed the death.

Working with John J. Mooney and a team of other chemical engineers at the Engelhard Corporation, one of the world's largest mineral refining companies, Dr. Keith designed the three-way catalytic converter in the early 1970s, just as the stricter emission requirements of the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 were coming into effect.

"Billions of people around the world breathe cleaner air because of this invention," Margo Oge, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the Environmental Protection Agency, said Friday.

The three-way converter was a significant improvement over what is called the oxidizing converter, the patent for which is held by General Motors. The three-way is now standard for cars and light trucks made in the United States and in most of the rest of the world.

Lindsay Brooke, a senior editor of Automotive Engineering International, the magazine of the Society of Automotive Engineers, said Thursday in an interview, "The catalytic converter, combined with the transition to unleaded gasoline, led to a dramatic improvement in air quality and enabled the auto industry to meet the Clean Air Act regulations."

A catalytic converter is a can-shaped device installed beneath a vehicle as part of the exhaust pipe. Inside the converter, a bricklike ceramic honeycomb with hundreds of tiny passages is coated with a catalyst material, typically platinum or palladium. When the exhaust flows out of the engine and passes over and through the catalyst coating, a chemical reaction renders three toxic compounds harmless.

The oxidizing converter worked for two of those compounds, turning carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. The three-way device designed by Dr. Keith and his colleagues added the conversion of nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water, greatly reducing the emission of harmful particulates into the air.

According to an E.P.A. statement, today's cars are 98 percent cleaner in terms of nitrogen oxide emissions than those built in the 1970s, "and the three-way catalytic converter is the greatest contributor to that reduction."

David Doniger, the director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed, pointing out that "smog has gone down sharply, even as the number of cars and the size of the economy has more than doubled."

Carl Donald Keith was born in Stewart Creek, W.Va., on May 29, 1920, one of three sons of Howard and Mary Rawson Keith. His father was a steelworker, and his mother worked in a bakery.

Dr. Keith graduated from Salem College, in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1943. He received a master's degree in chemistry from Indiana University in 1945, and a doctorate from DePaul University in 1947.

He was a chemist for Sinclair Oil from 1943 until 1957, and then joined Engelhard Industries. From 1976 to 1985, when he retired, he served as an executive vice president, president and then chairman of the company.

Dr. Keith's wife, the former Edith Birmingham, died in 2000. He is survived by two daughters, Judith Hardison of New Bern and Carla Hardesty of Randolph, N.J.; six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

In 2002, President Bush presented Dr. Keith and Mr. Mooney with the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technological innovation.

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