Inventions Gush out at Phillips Petroleum

By Teresa Riordan N. Y. Times News Service | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

Inventions Gush out at Phillips Petroleum


Teresa Riordan N. Y. Times News Service, THE JOURNAL RECORD


The petroleum industry, if one considers Patent Office statistics, must be a hotbed of innovative research. The oil and gas sector is annually one of the most patently prolific industries in the United States.

Yet most of these patents are not exactly headline grabbers. Take, for example, the title of patent 5,710,089, which will be issued Tuesday to Phillips Petroleum: "Sorbent Compositions." The patent covers an improvement on a substance called Z-sorb, which removes highly corrosive sulfur compounds from gasoline.

The patent is noteworthy mostly because it will be Phillips' 15,000th patent. But since the company received its first patent in 1924, Phillips researchers -- along with others in the industry -- have concocted an array of substances that touch virtually every aspect of American life, from hair washing to national security. Consider several Phillips patents over the century, like No. 4,376,851 for Crystalline polypropylene. This patent covers a substance whose production constitutes an industry with annual domestic sales of $3 billion to $4 billion. Crystalline polypropylene is used to make fibers found in synthetic carpets, undergarments and car interiors. Bartlesville- based Phillips received its pioneering patent in 1983, after much legal wrangling with rival companies that also laid claim to discovering it. Then there is No. 2,317,901 for hydrogen fluoride alkylation. Discovered in the 1940s, this allowed for the production of high- octane gasolines, giving airplanes quicker liftoff and more power for maneuvering. "This technology was instrumental in allowing the industry to produce high-performance aviation gasoline for World War II," said Don Brady, manager of the polymers and materials division at Phillips. Also, No. 2,825,721 for high-density polyethylene. In the early 1950s, Paul Hogan and R.L. Banks, who had discovered crystalline polypropylene, were trying to develop new gasoline additives when they accidentally gummed up their equipment with a white substance that resembled taffy. Market research indicated a huge range of potential applications for the new plastic, so Phillips opened a plant in Houston to produce the new material, which it named Marlex. …

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