Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • FRANCIS G. DWYER (1931-2017)
    FRANCIS G. DWYER

     

    BY THOMAS F. DEGNAN JR.

    FRANCIS GERARD DWYER, a former senior scientist and manager for the Mobil Oil Research and Development Corporation, died Dec. 24, 2017, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, at age 86.

    Frank was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1931, to Elizabeth Agnes (née Foley) and Francis George Dwyer. He graduated from St. Joseph Preparatory School in 1949 and earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from Villanova University in 1953, where he was first in his class. His decision to pursue a chemical engineering degree stemmed from a career interest test administered by a teacher during his junior year of high school. The test showed that accounting and finance best matched Frank’s interests; science and engineering ranked second. However, the teacher explained that the best match might not be the best choice because it may not offer a sufficient challenge. Instead, the second-best match might offer a more significant challenge and provide a better pathway to success.

    Frank joined Mobil Oil (then Socony Mobil Oil) as a process development engineer in its Paulsboro, New Jersey, Research Laboratory in June 1953. His initial assignment involved improving the reactor design of Mobil Oil’s catalytic cracking process, known as thermafor catalytic cracking (TCC). His work was essential to the company’s expansion of this technology to eight of its refineries.

    In late 1954 Frank was drafted into the U.S. Army. Following basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and training at the Chemical Corps School at Fort McClellan, Alabama, he was assigned to the Army’s First Radiological Safety Support Unit. This unit provided radiological safety guidance for various research program teams at the Atomic Energy Proving Grounds. From January to June 1955, Frank was stationed at the Atomic Energy Proving Grounds in Mercury, Nevada, where he witnessed the final above-ground testing of atomic explosive devices in the United States. After the devices were detonated, Frank entered the area and measured the residual radiation levels. He would then plot these measurements to create a radiation iso-intensity map, which guided civilian and military personnel studying the effects of an atomic explosion on the surroundings. Frank also monitored personnel for radiation upon their return from test areas and assisted in decontaminating facilities.

    After his assignment at the Nevada proving grounds, Frank transferred to the Army Chemical Center at Edgewood, Maryland. He served at the Army Chemical Center until his honorable discharge in 1956 with the rank of sergeant. Late that year, he returned to work at Mobil Oil, which was then Socony Mobil, accepting a position in the Catalyst Development Group in the Paulsboro, New Jersey, Research Laboratory. His initial project was to improve the integrity and performance of TCC catalysts. Mobil Oil’s trade name for these catalysts was “Durabead.”

    Fortuitously, in 1956 Union Carbide Chemical Co. had just started production of a synthetic version of naturally occurring crystalline silicoaluminates known as zeolites. To help identify commercial applications, Union Carbide Chemical Co. distributed samples of its zeolite to several research development organizations, including Mobil Oil. Frank was among the first Mobil Oil engineers to incorporate zeolites into Durabead catalysts. The performance of initial batches of the zeolite-containing Durabead catalysts was disappointing. However, when ion exchanged to place the zeolites in an “acidic form,” the Durabead catalysts exceeded expectations and produced as much as 10 volume percent more gasoline than the prior Durabead catalysts. Beginning in 1957, Frank was responsible for developing and commercializing a series of these zeolite-containing Durabead catalysts for TCC and companion fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) refining applications.

    In 1961, Frank enrolled in the evening graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, which led to his earning an M.S. in chemical engineering in 1963. He was awarded a Mobil Incentive Fellowship the same year, enabling him to pursue his Ph.D. as a full-time graduate student. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966.

    After receiving his Ph.D., Frank returned to work for Mobil Oil in its Paulsboro, New Jersey, Research Laboratory. As a result of his numerous accomplishments in developing zeolite catalysts, Frank advanced through several technical positions from 1969 to 1982. Beginning in 1981, he held several managerial positions, including manager of Catalyst Synthesis and Development (1981-82). In 1982 he was promoted to senior scientist, the highest technical position in the company. Frank was also section manager of the Catalysis Research and Development Section (1985-93). After a 38-year career with Mobil Oil, he retired in 1993.

    Frank was responsible for or closely associated with the development of most of Mobil’s ZSM-5-based catalytic processes from 1968 through 1995. His Catalyst Research and Development group worked closely with Mobil Chemical Company to design and construct the first “templated zeolite” manufacturing capability in its Beaumont, Texas, Chemical Specialty Plant in 1972. This plant produced virtually all of the ZSM-5 zeolite used in the commercialization of Mobil’s 25 distinct ZSM-5-based refining and petrochemical processes.

    As one of Mobil’s seven senior scientists, Frank’s technical interests focused on converting methanol to gasoline (MTG), coupling Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (of long-chain hydrocarbons) with ZSM-5 cracking and oligomerization, and using ZSM-5 in FCC to produce propylene. In addition, Frank was a pioneer in modeling the diffusion characteristics of zeolites, which led to an improved understanding of aromatic alkylation processes.

    In addition to his work in zeolite catalysts, Frank was an authority in the catalysis of automotive emissions control. Beginning in the early 1970s, Frank was a vital member of the Interindustry Emissions Control Program (IECP), which included Ford, Mobil, Volkswagen, and several Japanese automakers. IECP aimed to utilize Mobil’s catalyst synthesis and development expertise to design new automotive emissions catalysts.

    In 1990 Frank received the Chemical Engineering Personal Achievement Award from Chemical Engineering Magazine in recognition of his contributions to developing and commercializing the Mobil-Badger ethylbenzene process. Also in 1990, he received the Lawrence B. Evans Award in Chemical Engineering Practice of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Frank was a member of the International Zeolite Association, where he served as councilor (1986) and treasurer (1989-92), and a lifetime member of the American Chemical Society and the North American Catalysis Society. He served on the board of directors of Mobil Catalyst Corporation of Japan from 1987 to 1993. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1993. Over the course of his career, Frank was the inventor or co-inventor of 39 U.S. patents and the author or co-author of more than 30 journal articles, chapters, and one book, Shape Selective Catalysis in Industrial Applications (with N.Y. Chen and William Garwood; Marcel Dekker, 1989).

    Frank was the beloved husband of Miriam Helen (née Hutelmyer) Dwyer (m. Jan. 28, 1961) and the loving father of Sharon Hannan (Thomas), Timothy (Nancy), Sean F. (Jo Ann), Sheila Galvis (Christian), and Colleen Dwyer. He is survived by 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

    Frank had a profound love of gardening and music. He was a founding member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and a prominent supporter of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He enjoyed watching most sports, especially Villanova basketball.