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Vladimir Haensel, inventor of the PlatformingTM process--a revolutionary chemical engineering process essential in producing clean fuel for transportation and in supplying materials for the modern plastics industry--was named recipient of the 1997 Charles Stark Draper Prize. The award, presented by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), is the engineering profession's highest honor. The 1997 prize carried a $450,000 honorarium.
Haensel, 83, was selected as the 1997 Draper Prize laureate for developing the PlatformingTM process which uses a platinum-based catalyst to efficiently convert petroleum into high-performance fuels. The trademarked process also generates large quantities of "aromatic hydrocarbons," which are the raw materials used in the manufacturing of plastics.
"The PlatformingTM process has touched all of our lives in countless ways," said NAE President Wm. A. Wulf. "Because of the PlatformingTM process, today's fuel for cars, trucks, and practically all other forms of ground transportation is vastly more efficient, environmentally friendly, and easier and cheaper to produce than anyone thought possible just a few decades ago. And because of the PlatformingTM process we can rely on plastic for manufacturing our medical devices, automobiles, synthetics for clothing, and tape for video and audio recording."
The PlatformingTM process creates a cleaner-burning fuel, eliminating the need to add lead to gasoline and cut emissions. The process has reduced this nation's reliance on foreign oil, broadened the world's long-term energy outlook, and saved billions of dollars in transportation costs. More than 190 million cars, trucks, and buses consume nearly 133 billion gallons of gasoline per year in the United States. A gallon of high-octane gasoline produced through the PlatformingTM process provides 35 percent more mileage. Only about 6 cents of the 46 cents per mile it costs to operate an automobile in the United States is used for oil and gasoline.
"Haensel has created what can only be called a revolution in mobility," said Paul Jennings, chair of the Draper Prize committee and professor of civil engineering and applied mechanics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "Indeed, the standard of living and safety of people in the United States and throughout the world is highly dependent on individual mobility. Whether it's an ambulance or emergency vehicle responding to a crisis, the continual supply of fresh food to grocery stores, or the ability of people to expand their employment options, the access to efficient personal transportation that Haensel's innovation created is key."
In the late 1940s, while working for Universal Oil Products Co. (now called UOP LLC) in Des Plaines, Ill., Haensel sought to improve the way crude oil was converted into fuel. At that time, gasoline was produced by the thermal cracking of petroleum over a clay catalyst. This method produced only modest amounts of very low-octane gasoline, an inefficient fuel that caused knocking in high-compression engines and tended to form a gum that plugged them. To improve the effective octane rating of this fuel, lead additives were used.
In the basic PlatformingTM patents, Haensel proposed using platinum as a catalyst for the refining process, an idea that experts thought unrealistic for technical reasons, and because platinum was and continues to be expensive and can be obtained in significant quantities only in Russia and South Africa. Many thought the expense and difficulty in obtaining platinum would make it unprofitable for the refining process.
In 1947 Haensel developed a simple method that was much more efficient and produced a remarkably higher-grade fuel. His method also produced more gasoline from the same amount of petroleum. The PlatformingTM process produces fewer emissions in the refining process, and because it generates significant amounts of hydrogen, it removes much of the sulfur and other contaminants from home heating oil, diesel fuel, and industrial fuel oil. The process also produces vast amounts of aromatic hydrocarbons, the raw materials used in the manufacturing of plastics. Previously, the plastics industry relied on the toxic processing of coal tar to obtain aromatic hydrocarbons.