Heinz Heinemann, 92; Found Way to Make Gas From Methanol

Washington Post

Heinz Heinemann, a retired petroleum chemist who developed a process for converting methanol to gasoline, has died. He was 92.

Heinemann died Nov. 23 of pneumonia at a hospital in Washington, D.C., where he lived. At the time of his death, he held the title of distinguished scientist in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Washington office.

Heinemann was born in Berlin and attended the University and Technische Hochschule in Munich. When his doctoral dissertation was rejected because he was Jewish, he went to Switzerland, where he received his doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Basel.

He immigrated to the United States in 1938 and found work with several oil companies in Louisiana and Texas. He became a U.S. citizen in 1944.


In the early 1940s, Heinemann won a postdoctoral fellowship at what is now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The fellowship was funded by the government of the Dominican Republic and involved research into ethanol, which was made from that nation’s primary cash crop, sugar cane.

As part of the war effort, Heinemann was dispatched to Little Rock, Ark., to teach a group of women how to work with petroleum catalysts. He solved the problem of their unfamiliarity with basic math by teaching them how to use slide rules.

After the war, he worked as a chemist for Houdry Process Corp. in Marcus Hook, Pa., and as director of chemical and engineering research for M.W. Kellogg Co. As manager of catalysis research for Mobil Research and Development Co., he developed the process for converting methanol to gasoline.

Heinemann retired from industry in 1978 and joined the Lawrence Berkeley lab as a senior scientist.


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.

During more than 60 years of research, Heinemann contributed to the invention and development of 14 commercial fossil fuel processes, received 75 patents and was the author of more than 100 publications.

He was the founder of the journal Catalysis Reviews and served as its editor for 20 years. He was also consulting editor for more than 90 books published by Marcel Dekker Inc. in its chemical industries series.


In 1994, Heinemann received the Homer H. Lowry Award in Fossil Energy, presented by then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary, for research he had done during the previous decade.

His first wife, Elaine, died in 1993. Survivors include his wife, Barbara A. Tenenbaum, and two children from his first marriage, Sue Heinemann of Oakland and Peter M. Heinemann of San Francisco.