With the support of Gulf Refining Company, Almer McDuffie McAfee developed the petroleum industry’s first commercially viable catalytic cracking process‑a method that could double or even triple the gasoline yielded from crude oil by then-standard distillation methods. Based partly on an 1877 Friedel-Crafts patent, the McAfee cracking process required anhydrous aluminum chloride, a catalyst that was prohibitively expensive. In 1923 McAfee and Gulf would solve that problem by developing a way to synthesize the catalytic reagent at low cost, on an industrial scale. Indeed, each time McAfee’s methods appeared to become obsolete, circumstances changed in his favor. Today the results of McAfee’s further work with aluminum chloride, which led to the Alchlor process, are still on the scene.
For a more complete history on McAfee’s innovations (by Paul T. Buonora), please see Chemical Heritage Magazine, 16:2 (Fall 1998). Chemical Heritage Foundation website: www.chemheritage.org/.
Contributed by J. Armor