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
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