Cracking of crude petroleum to gasoline

The first full-scale com­mer­cial cat­alytic cracker for the selec­tive con­ver­sion of crude petro­leum to gaso­line went on stream at the Mar­cus Hook Refin­ery in 1937. Pio­neered by Eugene Jules Houdry (1892–1962), the cat­alytic crack­ing of petro­leum rev­o­lu­tion­ized the indus­try. The Houdry process con­served nat­ural oil by dou­bling the amount of gaso­line pro­duced by other processes. It also greatly improved the gaso­line octane rat­ing, mak­ing pos­si­ble today’s effi­cient, high-compression auto­mo­bile engines, Dur­ing World War II, the high-octane fuel shipped from Houdry plants played a crit­i­cal role in the Allied vic­tory, The Houdry lab­o­ra­to­ries in Lin­wood became the research and devel­op­ment cen­ter for this and sub­se­quent Houdry inventions.

The inven­tion and devel­op­ment of gasoline-fueled motor vehi­cles has had a pro­found influ­ence on human his­tory pro­vid­ing trans­port for indus­trial prod­ucts and employ­ment for mil­lions and deter­min­ing where and how we live, work, and play. In the United States today, more than half of the 300 mil­lion gal­lons of gaso­line used each day to fuel more than 150 mil­lion pas­sen­ger cars is pro­duced by catalytic-cracking tech­nol­ogy. High-octane gaso­line paved the way to high compression-ratio engines, higher engine per­for­mance, and greater fuel economy.

The most dra­matic ben­e­fit of the ear­li­est Houdry units was in the pro­duc­tion of 100-octane avi­a­tion gaso­line, just before the out­break of World War II. The Houdry plants pro­vided a bet­ter gaso­line for blend­ing with scarce high-octane com­po­nents, as well as by-products that could be con­verted by other processes to make more high-octane frac­tions. The increased per­for­mance meant that Allied planes were bet­ter than Axis planes by a fac­tor of 15 per­cent to 30 per­cent in engine power for take-off and climb­ing; 25 per­cent in pay­load; 10 per­cent in max­i­mum speed; and 12 per­cent in oper­a­tional alti­tude. In the first six months of 1940, at the time of the Bat­tle of Britain, 1.1 mil­lion bar­rels per month of 100-octane avi­a­tion gaso­line was shipped to the Allies. Houdry plants pro­duced 90 per­cent of this cat­alyt­i­cally cracked gaso­line dur­ing the first two years of the war.
For more details, see the ACS Edu­ca­tional Por­tal: The Houdry Process
Con­tributed by ACS