Hall of Distinction Class of 1985-1986

The accomplishments of Alexis Voorhies span more than 50 years, and encompass the fundamentals, in industrial chemistry and chemical engineering, of almost every major process for petroleum refining and many for the petrochemical production. For 34 years he was associated with the Esso (now Exxon) Research Laboratories, including 19 years as its director.

During his years there, the Esso Research Laboratories were the major pilot plant development center of the world’s largest oil company. Processes of importance to society and the national interest were developed there, from making aviation gasoline and synthetic rubber before World War II to removing sulphur form fuel oil in the 1960s, with the technical contributions and leadership of Alex Voorhies.

Among the innovations developed and/or commercialized during Mr. Voorhies’s years there were the sluidized solids technique, fluid coking and fluid hydroforming, the oxo process for higher alcohols, hydrocracking (the JHC process), and processes for polyolefins, chlorobutyl rubber, desulfurization of fuel oils, and many others. In all of these developments, in addition to his technical contributions, Alex Voorhies coordinated and directed the activities of research groups, including engineers designing and operating large pilot plants, scientists doing fundamental mechanism studies, instrumentation engineering, catalyst development groups, analytical chemists, and others.

At age 65, Alex Voorhies retired from Esso- and began a new career. Mr. Voorhies became Professor Voorhies, as he devoted his tireless talents to the post of visiting professor of chemical engineering at LSU. For more than 16 years, Professor Voorhies developed and directed research, served ad major professor to a large number of graduate students, and taught the latest developments in petroleum and petrochemical engineering. Members of the Department say that he was a key figure in the development of graduated programs in heterogeneous catalysis and petroleum processing. Students also appreciated Alex Voorhies’s unique abilities and experience. His classes were full year after year. At the end of 1980, when he resigned his teaching position, the SLU Board of Supervisors voted professor Voorhies the rank of professor emeritus in recognition of his long and exceptionally productive service to the University.

Professor Voorhies was also exceptionally productive in the area of patents and publications. He has been awarded more than 60 U.S. patents, and holds 175 foreign patents, issued in Canada, Germany, England, France, Japan, Holland, and Italy. He has been the author of at least 30 technical publications, and his work spans the range from catalytic cracking to catalyst mechanisms, from lubricating oils to polyolefins, from oxo alcohols to reactor contacting.

Researchers especially not Professor Voorhies’s definitive paper on “Carbon Formation in Catalytic Cracking,” published in 1945, which continues to be used, with its “Voorhies Equation,” as a reference today. One chemical engineer said of the paper, “(IT) provides an illustration of how Mr. Voorhies always backed up complex commercial developments with sound fundamental understanding. It was characteristic of his technical leadership to couple basic mechanism studies with the practical requirements of a pilot plant development.”

Through his leadership industrial research and development, his personal contributions to the stock of scientific knowledge and his prodigious record of accomplishments in both industrial and educational careers, Alexis Voorhies, Jr., has proven himself to be a truly distinguished engineer. The College of Engineering is proud to welcome him to the Engineering hall of Distinction.