The Houdry Process
Houdry process for gasoline production unveiled in 1937, conserved natural oil by doubling the amount of gasoline produced by other processes.
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.
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.
The original Houdry process embodied several innovative chemical and engineering concepts that have had far-reaching consequences. For example, the improvement of the octane rating with catalytic processes showed that the chemical composition of fuels was limiting engine performance. Further, aluminosilicate catalysts were shown to be efficient in improving the octane rating because they generated more highly branched isoparaffins and aromatic hydrocarbons, which are responsible for high octane ratings.
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Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program