Forget Napster and Java. The most revolutionary technologies often attract the fewest headlines. Here are two innovations that set the business agenda.

BREATHE EASY
WHAT The catalytic converter
WHEN First required on 1975 model-year cars
WHERE Engelhard Corp., Iselin, New Jersey
WHO Carl D. Keith and John J. Mooney

Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, pulls no punches: "The catalytic converter revolutionized the automobile." The numbers support O'Donnell's claim. Since their introduction in 1975, catalytic converters have reduced the pollution that comes from car tailpipes by about 95 percent.

It turns out that the federal government is the hero of the catalytic-converter story. Over the objections of carmakers, Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, imposing strict emission standards on automobiles. Among other things, carmakers predicted that the regulations would reduce performance and fuel efficiency. Instead, not only has pollution dropped dramatically, but carmakers have steadily improved fuel efficiency, in part to meet the demands of the pollution regulations. The Clean Air Act's rules had another dramatic effect: Because catalytic converters are damaged by lead, their widespread use meant that lead had to be eliminated as an ingredient in gasoline. As a result, lead, a dangerous toxin, has all but disappeared as an environmental pollutant. - C. Fishman

FLASH OF INSIGHT
WHAT The Honda Insight
WHEN December 19, 1999
WHERE Tochigi, Japan
WHO A special Tochigi-based team drawn from electric-
vehicle project teams and sports-car development teams