Vladimir Haensel, developer of a revolutionary chemical-engineering process essential to clean fuels, received the $500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize.

Innovators in Energy Generation | Petroleum pioneers

The successful development of hydrogen-fueled cars presents chemical engineers with the challenge of producing hydrogen economically in large quantities. Photo © GM Corp. Courtesy GM Media Archive.

Countless chemical engineers have made significant contributions to the advancement and modernization of petroleum refining over the last 100 years. Three among the many are profiled below.

Vladimir Haensel

In 1947 Vladimir Haensel, working at Universal Oil Products, developed platforming, a process that uses platinum as a catalyst to produce a clean, less expensive gasoline with greater energy content. Prior to platforming the preferred way to increase octane was to add lead, that is, tetraethyl lead, to the gasoline. Platforming ultimately prepared the way for the development of unleaded fuel for automobiles.

Haensel received both a B.S. in engineering and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University and an M.S. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1997 he was awarded the National Academy of Engineering's Charles Stark Draper Prize for his achievements.

Donald L. Katz

Donald L. Katz was among a handful of scientific pioneers who created the new discipline of petroleum reservoir engineering, a field in which he was considered a world leader.

Katz received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan. In 1983 he received a very special award, the National Medal of Science, presented to him by President Ronald Reagan. In recognition of his many research contributions the College of Engineering of the University of Michigan established the Donald L. Katz Lectureship in Chemical Engineering in 1971.

Eger V. Murphree

Eger V. Murphree was a leader in the development of synthetic toluene, hydrocarbon synthesis, and fluid catalytic cracking, hydroforming, and coking. From 1947 to 1962 he served as president of the Standard Oil Development Company, which was renamed Esso Research and Engineering in 1955.

Murphree graduated from Kentucky University with bachelor's degrees in chemistry and mathematics and a master's in chemistry. He also attended MIT for two years.