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Petrol makes top 10 inventions list

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

In a new survey carried out and published by IChemE, chemical engineers have voted on what they consider to be the top chemically engineered inventions and solutions of the modern era.

With a global population of over 7 billion, chemical engineers provide many of the foundations for the modern world by producing a vast array of products and solutions on an industrial scale including energy, healthcare, water and food production.

The top 10

40 inventions were shortlisted and chemical engineers voted for their most important chemically engineered solution over the last century. The to inventions considered to have the biggest impact on society were:

  • Drinking or potable water.
  • Petrol or gasoline (and other fuels including diesel).
  • Antibiotics.
  • Electricity generation (from fossil fuels).
  • Vaccines.
  • Plastics.
  • Fertiliser.
  • Sanitation.
  • Electricity generation (from non-fossil fuels).
  • Dosed medications (such as tablets, pills and capsules).

Notable runners up

Some notable inventions that did not make the top ten include:

  • 11. Biofuels.
  • 12. Contraceptives.
  • 13. Batteries.
  • 14. The catalytic converter.
  • 28. Adhesives.
  • 39. Pneumatic tyres.
  • 41. Photographic film.


‘Chemical engineering is a remarkable profession. It can take the smallest of discoveries in laboratories, from all fields of science and technology, and replicate them on a mass scale, consistently and economically,’ said David Brown, IChemE’s chief executive.

Praise for petrol

There are fewer innovations that have had a greater impact on society than the combustion engine, petrol and the motor car. Global consumption of petrol, heating oil and other petroleum products reached a record high of 88.9 million bpd in 2012. It powers in excess of 1 billion cars estimated to be on the world’s roads.

Petrol is processed in oil refineries by distillation from crude oil. Distillation is one of the most important processes in chemical engineering and the distillation column is considered an iconic symbol by many chemical engineers for their profession. The process for producing petrol at refineries involves using heat to separate out different products at different boiling points. Some of these products, such as LPG and kerosene are ready for use as heating or transport fuels. Others pass through a distillation column where heat and pressure cause a chemical reaction that transforms them into higher value products.

Azhar Ashfaq, senior process engineer said, ‘petrol and other products derived from crude oil have a major impact on our lives every day. From water bottles and shopping bags to fertilisers, soap, water pipes, boats and perfumes, it is all due to the fractions and their derivatives. In fact, chemical engineering helps to produce 6000 products from crude oil.

‘But it is the impact of petrol as a fuel in automobiles that has helped society to be more efficient, mobilised and more productive that justifies petrol being in the top three of chemically engineered inventions of the modern era.’

Adapted from a press release by Claira Lloyd.

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