Image of Fluid Bed Catalytic Cracking Fluid Bed Catalytic Cracking
Fluid Bed Catalytic Cracking, Warren K. Lewis and Edwin Gilliland, 1939

Petroleum was the essential fuel for the internal combustion engines that powered many of the critical inventions of the early 20th century: automobiles, airplanes, diesel ships, and trains. Demand for gasoline and other refined products rose rapidly, and it was not just a matter of quantity. Going farther and faster meant a better quality gasoline was needed. Eugene Houdry’s research on fixed-bed catalytic cracking technology for refining petroleum resulted in the key breakthrough in the 1920s. Unable to afford the license fees for the Houdry Process, Standard Oil decided to develop the technology on its own. The company had a strong relationship with the MIT Chemical Engineering Department and asked Professors Warren K. Lewis and Edwin Gilliland to investigate alternative refining processes. In 1939, Lewis and Gilliland invented fluid-bed catalytic cracking. Their fluid-bed design, combined with the innovations made by Standard Oil researchers, resulted in a refinery design that remains the primary method of high-quality gasoline production. The more immediate result was the introduction of 100-octane aviation fuel that gave a crucial technological advantage to the United States and its allies during World War II.

1 comment
RSS icon
  • Thank you for this summary. I used it as a source in my unit operations lab report on fluidized beds.

    Ryan Neris
    6 Apr 14 at 7:12 pm