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UC Berkeley Press Release

Petroleum chemist Heinz Heinemann dies at 92

– Heinz Heinemann, a long-time lecturer in the College of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and a chemistry researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), died Nov. 23 of pneumonia at Sibley Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 92.

Heinz Heinemann
Heinz Heinemann (Photo courtesy LBNL)

During a 60-year career in industry and academia, Heinemann contributed to the invention and development of 14 commercial fossil fuel processes, received 75 patents and was the author of more than 150 publications. Among his inventions was a process for converting methanol to gasoline.

At his death, he was a distinguished scientist in the Washington office of LBNL. During the period 2001 to 2004, he served as a manager of the Chemical Society of Washington, a local section of the American Chemical Society, and as president of the organization's Retired Chemists Group.

Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1913, he attended the University and Technische Hochschule in Berlin. When his doctoral dissertation was rejected because he was Jewish, he made his way to Basel, Switzerland, where he received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Basel before coming to the United States in 1938. He became a U.S. citizen in 1944.

He worked for several petroleum companies in Louisiana and Texas and won a postdoctoral fellowship at the then-Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie-Mellon University. The fellowship was funded by the government of the Dominican Republic and involved research into ethanol, which was made from the Dominican Republic's primary cash crop, sugar cane.

He published the majority of his papers and received most of his patents in the field of catalysis and petroleum chemistry while working for Houdry Process Corp., the MW Kellogg Co. as director of chemical and engineering research, and the Mobil Research and Development Co. as manager of catalysis research. During his 40 years with industry, he actively participated in the research and development of 14 commercial processes, including the process for converting methanol to gasoline.

After retiring from industry in 1978, he joined LBNL as a researcher and became a lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UC Berkeley. His research involved coal gasification, catalytic coal liquefaction, hydrodenitrification, nitrogen oxide emission control and the development of a special catalyst that enables methane, the major component of natural gas, to be used to make petrochemicals. The research team he led invented and patented a process known as catalytic oxydehydrogenation.

He was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Catalysis Club, the Catalysis Society of North America and the International Congress of Catalysis, serving as its president from 1956 to 1960. He was the founder of the journal Catalysis Reviews and worked as its editor for 20 years. He also was consulting editor for over 90 books in the Chemical Industries Series, published by Marcel Dekker, Inc.

He received many honors, among them election to the National Academy of Engineering , the Houdry Award of the Catalysis Society, the Murphree Award of the American Chemical Society, the H. H. Lowry Award presented for research he pursued in his seventies, and a Distinguished Scientist/Engineer award from the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, he was elected a member of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research for his support in founding its Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry.

He is survived by his wife of 10 years, Dr. Barbara Tenenbaum of Washington, D.C.; daughter, Sue Heinemann of Oakland, Calif.; and son, Peter M. Heinemann of San Francisco. His first wife, Elaine P. Heinemann, died in 1993 after 46 years of marriage.

Contributions may be made in his memory to the Heinz Heinemann Memorial Fund. Donations should be made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation and sent to the attention of Jane Scheiber, College of Chemistry, 420 Latimer Hall, #1460, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1460.