Crude Oil Into Gasoline
production of petroleum began in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859.
The internal combustion engine was developed soon after, and the first
gasoline-fueled "horseless carriages" appeared on American
streets in 1895. But since only wealthy people could afford them,
there were probably no more than 8000 automobiles in the United States
by the turn of the century.
petroleum is a complex mixture of hydrocarbon molecules, compounds
containing carbon, and hydrogen atoms. Initially, crude petroleum
was separated by distillation into fractions distinguished by differences
in their boiling points. Some higher-boiling fractions were used
for lighting and some for lubrication, but for many years, little
use was found for the gasoline component.
the number of automobiles, trucks, and tractors increased, the demand
for gasoline increased, and by 1910when there were 500,000 automobilesa
gasoline shortage had developed. It occurred to a few perceptive
inventors that it might be possible to produce additional gasoline
from the unused, higher-boiling petroleum fractions. In 1913, Dr.
William Burton of Standard Oil of Indiana introduced a thermal-cracking
procedure that used high temperature and pressure to break down
the larger, higher-boiling molecules into the smaller, lower-boiling
molecules found in gasoline.
was recognized that more efficient engine performance could be achieved
from a fuel that had a higher "octane rating," the measure
of a fuel's efficiency in a standard engine. The first significant
increase in octane rating was obtained in 1923, when Standard Oil
of Indiana, using a discovery of Thomas Midgley, Jr., of General
Motors, added tetraethyl lead to gasoline.
the early 1920s, the French engineer Eugene Jules Houdry began his
search for a catalyst to produce gasoline from lignite. A catalyst
is a substance that can increase the rate at which a chemical reaction
occurs, without itself being changed. Because it has the potential
to produce very selective results, such as the cracking of high-boiling
petroleum fractions to gasoline, a catalyst can give a particular
process a competitive advantage. In the 1920s, the science of catalysis
was still in its infancy, and the business applications were limited
to the hydrogenation of vegetable oils to make butter substitutes,
the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to make ammonia for fertilizers
and explosives, and the conversion of carbon monoxide to make methanol
or hydrocarbons. The Gulf Oil Corporation had tried to replace the
energy-intensive thermal cracking of the higher-boiling petroleum
fractions with an aluminum chloride catalyst, but the results were
not economically successful because the cost was too high.