Honeywell UOP is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Vladimir Ipatieff.
The Russian scientist is credited with establishing UOP as one of the world’s leading research and development organisations serving the refining, petrochemicals and gas processing industries for more than 85 years.
Ipatieff, who was born in Moscow on 21 November 1867, established himself as a promising student of chemistry relating to metals and explosives while attending the Mikhailovskaya Artillery Academy in St. Petersburg. He later pioneered work in high-pressure catalysis, developing advanced munitions for the Russian army during the first World War, and earning him the rank of General-Lieutenant.
Due to his position, he became a confidant of Czar Nicholas II. After the Czar abdicated in February 1917, the royal family fled to Yekaterinburg where they were held in the home of Ipatieff’s brother Nikolai. But it was in the basement of that same home that the royal family was executed by Bolshevik guards following the October Revolution that established the Soviet Union.
“Despite his close association with the Czar, the new Soviet government kept Ipatieff on to head various scientific and industrial ministries,” said Jeff Bricker, senior director of research at Honeywell UOP. “And Ipatieff continued to serve in those roles, out of a sense of great duty to his country.”
But in 1930, Ipatieff was warned that he was on a list of officials to be arrested as part of Josef Stalin’s political purges. That year he traveled with his wife to Berlin, Germany, to attend an academic conference. It was at that conference that he was introduced to Gustav Egloff, the director of research at UOP, which was then known as Universal Oil Products. Egloff offered Ipatieff a senior research director role in Chicago, which also would allow him to lecture at Northwestern University.
“Ipatieff was famous among chemical engineers for his work in catalysis, but everyone assumed he had died years before in Russia,” Bricker said. “When he turned up at UOP – still only 63 years old – many of the greatest scientists in the world came to UOP, just for the chance to work with him.”
Within two years after arriving at UOP, Ipatieff introduced the first of several catalysis methods to oil refining, using solid phosphoric acid to produce specific engineered petroleum products. Among these were methods to make an exceptionally powerful 100-octane aviation gasoline that made Allied aircraft highly competitive in air battles during World War II, and is credited with shortening the war by at least a year.
This also established UOP as a leading developer of catalytic processes for the refining industry, introducing numerous polymerisation, isomerisation and alkylation technologies. These catalysts sped up and performed specific chemical reactions in refineries, making it possible to manufacture engineered fuels and fuel additives.
Ipatieff had a rigorous and disciplined scientific method that he imparted on UOP’s technologists and engineers. He championed the development of platinum catalysts by a protégé, Vladimir Haensel, which in 1947 led to the birth of the modern petrochemicals industry, and the widespread production of plastics. This technology remains in use around the world today. It also led UOP to begin manufacturing its own proprietary catalysts in 1950.
“While Ipatieff died in 1952, his legacy is very much alive today at UOP because he brought legions of the world’s greatest scientists to the business, and those people attracted the next generation, they attracted the generation after that,” Bricker said. “Incredibly, there are still retirees at UOP who remember Ipatieff as a brilliant and tireless scientist, and much of the unique culture of invention that we have today has a clear lineage back to Ipatieff.”
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