Photo of Marvin M. Johnson

Marvin M. Johnson

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Economics
For his discovery and development of metal passivating agents for catalytic cracking catalysts which have become economically effective methods permitting refineries to process crude oils with higher metal contents, particularly heavy crude oil types, and have contributed to United States’ competitiveness in this technological area.

Back in the 1970s, faced with challenges of decreasing energy resources and increasing pollution, executives at Phillips Petroleum challenged a research team to find breakthrough solutions. Marvin M. Johnson was able to develop new chemical agents for a process that neutralizes the harmful effects of two metals, nickel and vanadium, in crude-oil supplies.

“When I approach a problem, it’s not enough to discover the nature of the solution. I want to apply it. I know that if I keep at it until I can describe everything with numbers and equations, then I will really understand it,” Johnson shared in an interview with FastCompany.

Johnson’s discovery made it possible for refineries to extract more gasoline out of each unit of crude oil with less impact on the environment. He worked for Phillips for 46 years, and attributes his adept problem-solving ability to his training in both chemistry and engineering. Over the course of his career, Johnson was awarded over 212 patents.

By Jen Santisi