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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