When Dick Klimisch began working at General Motors in 1967, other GM engineers were trying to cut vehicle tailpipe pollution through mechanical engineering — changing the way engines ran. They weren't having much success.
Klimisch was a 29-year-old chemical engineer. At DuPont, he had worked with catalysts — substances that trigger chemical reactions.
DuPont used catalysts to help create compounds for synthetic fabrics — or as Klimisch likes to say, for making women's underwear. At GM, catalysts would provide the key to cleaning vehicle exhaust.
"I sold myself as one of the world's catalyst experts," Klimisch told Automotive News. "I thought, 'Wow, what an incredible opportunity, to work for the biggest auto company in the world on this wonderful problem.' "
The mechanical engineers made fun of "Captain Catalyst." But eventually he, they and others at GM developed the catalytic converter now found on most vehicles. The device, which debuted on 1975 models, changes exhaust pollutants into compounds that occur naturally in the atmosphere, allowing vehicles to run better, cleaner and on less fuel.
Klimisch credits the leadership of former GM President Ed Cole, whom he calls "a towering genius."
The catalytic converter is a leading example of GM's role in limiting the harmful effects of vehicles on society and the environment. The company, while generally opposed to government regulation, has developed key technologies used industrywide to improve safety and reduce pollution.