Pioneer of Catalytic Cracking: Almer McAfee at Gulf Oil

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:
Con­tributed by J. Armor