Empowering Expanding Economies

The achievements of chemical engineering have fueled the world’s economies. Witness the dramatic increases in the supplies of higher-quality gasoline and jet fuels that resulted from the discovery and development of continuous catalytic cracking.

In 1909, William Burton, general manager of manufacturing for Standard Oil of Indiana, instructed chief chemist Robert Humphreys to work on increasing the yield of gasoline from crude oil. Humphreys knew that the application of high temperatures would “crack” molecules, and he theorized that if gas oil could be held under pressure until a cracking temperature was reached, it might improve the yield of gasoline. Humphreys was right and the thermal cracking process was invented.

Our modern industries and way of life would not exist without the improvements and access to efficient fuels created by chemical engineers — from high-octane gasoline to jet fuel, from chemicals derived from natural gas to the stretching of fossil fuels.


1912 — Thermal cracking at 850° F and 75 psig doubles the yield of gasoline from crude oil, compared with 650° F atmospheric distillation. (Standard Oil Co. of Indiana)

1921 — Continuousthermal cracking to convert heavy oil into gasoline is achieved using double coils and tubes. (Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey)

1930 — Low-temperature lube oils are produced using an additive to prevent paraffin crystallization. (Standard Oil Development)

1937 High-octane gasoline is achieved by catalytic cracking using rapidly deactivating silica catalyst regenerated in cyclic operations. This development paved the way for fixed-bed catalytic cracking using reactors packed with catalyst pellets. (Houdry, Socony Vacuum, Sun Oil)

1942 — Continuous catalytic cracking is achieved by fluidizing fine silica alumina catalyst so that it flows between reactor and regenerator. (Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey)

1944 — First jet fuel, called JP-e, is manufactured to fuel early U.S. jet planes. (Socony Vacuum)

1950 — First synthetic jet and turbo-prop aircraft engine lubricants are developed, providing superior lubrication and greater thermal stability. (Standard Oil Development)

1952 — Multi-grade all-season motor oil is developed; additives are used to reduce viscosity, temperature dependency, and pour point. (Standard Oil Development)

1970 — BF3-catalyzed 1-decene polymerization leads to energy efficient syn­thetic motor oil (Mobil1— first introduced in 1974; improved polymer added in 2000). (Mobil Oil)

1985 — First commercial plant built to convert natural gas to methanol and then to a premium unleaded gasoline. (Mobil Oil)