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Here is some info from Wikipedia about Catalytic converters
A catalytic converter is an exhaust emission control device that reduces toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less-toxic pollutants by catalyzing a redox reaction (an oxidation and a reduction reaction). Catalytic converters are usually used with internal combustion engines fueled by either gasoline or diesel—including lean-burn engines as well as kerosene heaters and stoves.
The first widespread introduction of catalytic converters was in the United States automobile market. To comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s stricter regulation of exhaust emissions, most gasoline-powered vehicles starting with the 1975 model year must be equipped with catalytic converters. These “two-way” converters combine oxygen with carbon monoxide (CO) and unburned hydrocarbons (CₙHₙ) to produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). In 1981, two-way catalytic converters were rendered obsolete by “three-way” converters that also reduce oxides of nitrogen (NO
x ); however, two-way converters are still used for lean-burn engines. This is because three-way-converters require either rich or stoichiometric combustion to successfully reduce NO
Although catalytic converters are most commonly applied to exhaust systems in automobiles, they are also used on electrical generators, forklifts, mining equipment, trucks, buses, locomotives, and motorcycles. They are also used on some wood stoves to control emissions. This is usually in response to government regulation, either through direct environmental regulation or through health and safety regulations.