Issue Date: November 4, 2013
Collaborative War Efforts
I enjoy the anniversary issues of C&EN as they provide thumbnail sketches of significant discoveries and inventions (C&EN, Sept. 9, page 64). However, “Catalysis Chronicles” leaves out two critical items: First, the WWII effort for catalyst development was influenced by a collaboration of oil companies and technology suppliers. Second, that type of concurrent development in science occurs frequently. Because the fluid catalytic cracking process and the development of polypropylene/polyethylene have been honored by ACS as part of its National Historic Chemical Landmarks program, I was surprised by the lack of recognition in this article.
This collaborative effort was not discussed, and the reader is left with the impression that there were only a couple of players developing technologies to enhance gasoline and aviation fuel production. Of particular note is the alkylation discussion and UOP’s developments. Missing is information about the alternative alkylation process developed and patented by Phillips Petroleum. The interaction of the gasoline-producing companies during the war led to a number of critical achievements that were done in collaboration and shared. Ultimately, this did result in some patent and processing disputes after the war; however, there was a sense of openness that allowed the acceleration of technology.
Having known J. Paul Hogan, I can tell you that there would have been a letter to the editor regarding the story’s recounting of the development of petroleum-based polymers. Yes, Ziegler-Natta polymerization catalysts, as they have come to be known, were developed; however, the patent was held by Phillips Petroleum, as was the initial commercialization. Public information was delayed due to patent filing—the U.S. patent system then was based on first to invent—while the academic discovery was revealed in the scientific press. Ultimately, the Nobel Prize was awarded to the academic discovery, as there was a 17-year patent dispute in the courts.
Uninformed readers may have been left with the wrong impression.
Ponca City, Okla.
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