Our People: Meet Marathon Petroleum’s most prolific inventor Howard Moore

Business News

National Inventors Month is recognized in May to celebrate human ingenuity. One of Marathon Petroleum Company LP’s (MPC) key inventors has been working on new ideas, new processes and design improvements for more than 50 years. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted 28 patents to MPC based on the innovative ideas conceived and developed by Principal Refining Engineer Howard Moore. Moore continues to discover new problems to solve. However, Moore says his first patent remains his favorite. It involves aviation fuel created from alternative feedstocks in the 1980s and a jet flight with John Glenn, the famed astronaut, on board.

To most people, having a patent means exotic technology, riches and Thomas Edison-type breakthroughs. To Howard Moore, inventor of more U.S. patents than any current employee at MPC, it means innovative ways to run the business better and more efficiently. He sees a patent as a viable tool to protect MPC’s ability to operate profitably.

“As a technologist, I’m out in the refinery supporting the operating units,” said Moore. “We find a problem that we need to solve, and then it might appear that the process is patentable. We don’t want someone else to patent it and prevent us from doing what we are doing. We tend to file more protective patents.”   

Moore has been involved in petroleum processing and synthetic oils research since 1974 when he represented the University of Kentucky in a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded UK/Ashland Oil coal pyrolysis unit project.

“My chemical engineering professor called me into his office because he knew I grew up near the Ashland refinery,” said Moore. “They’d signed a contract and needed someone to go to Ashland for the project. It became part of my graduation plan, and that’s how I started with the company and stayed in Kentucky.”

He joined Ashland’s Research and Development (R&D) team as a research engineer in 1975, performing economic analysis and technical evaluation of new process developments. He received formal training in the patent process because there was an emphasis on technology and discovery. He performed pilot plant work on the scaling down of fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) processes, designing and building Ashland's first fully circulating pilot FCC units, which became industry-recognized for their ability to process heavy feeds and simulate commercial operations.

In the early 80s, Moore said there was a terrible downturn in the oil industry, and he was tasked with finding an alternative way to produce aviation fuel. That led to his first patent for a combination process for upgrading oil products of coal, shale oil and crude oil to produce jet fuels, diesel fuels and gasoline. Moore used the process to help create 5,000 gallons of military aviation fuel using alternative feedstocks.

“John Glenn flew an F-15 from Wright Patterson Air Force Base to Washington D.C. on that fuel to testify before Congress that we needed secure energy sources for national defense purposes. I’m glad he didn’t crash or anything,” said Moore. “We used a different feedstock to show you can make conventional fuel from unconventional resources.”

That first patent may have been his favorite, but his resume is full of honors, awards, certifications, publications and more patents.

“Howard Moore is an industry icon,” said Jeff Sexton, Refining Technology Director and chair of MPC’s Invention Classification Committee. “He has a strong reputation in the industry for his innovation and accomplishments. As a leader within the company, he’s also devoted to mentoring young engineers and encouraging them to succeed.”

Moore’s daughter is also an engineer who works for MPC. She is the Engineering & Technical Services Manager at the Canton refinery and credits her dad for being her role model.

“My dad is my inspiration as a working mom. When I was a kid, although he was an R&D manager at that time, he made sure to always be home at the same time every evening for our family,” said Beverly Long, Moore’s daughter. “Then and now, I always know my sister, my daughter and I are his first priority. That’s my bar for being a working mom, and he showed me it is possible to do that and have a productive and interesting career over the long term.”

From 1998 to present, he has been the Hydroprocessing Technologist for MPC with the responsibility for coordinating 12-66 hydrotreaters at 4-16 refineries depending on the time. He’s also spent a lot of time mentoring young engineers in the business. Overall, he feels he’s had a challenging job that has kept him intrigued for more than 45 years.

“I love what I do. It makes it easy to get up in the morning,” said Moore. “I’d like to work as long as I can. It’s entertaining. And we have an advantage. I believe we work with the top 5% intelligent people in the world. We challenge each other so much. This is a great place to work.”

Quick Facts

  • Born in eastern Kentucky on the farm his family has owned since 1938, within a mile of the initial homeplace from 1805. He now lives on and manages the property.
  • Education: B.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Kentucky, 1974
  • S., Chemical Engineering, University of Kentucky, 1975
  • Military: US Army Strategic Communications Command from 1970 to 1972; Honorably discharged as Specialist Fourth Class
  • Family: Two daughters. One is an international equestrian. The other is a chemical engineer for Marathon Petroleum.
  • First Patent: Johnson, C. A., C. Ward, H. F. Moore, and W. P. Hettinger, Jr., "Combination Process for Upgrading Oil Products of Coal, Shale Oil, and Crude Oil to Produce Jet Fuels, Diesel Fuel, and Gasoline," US Patent 4,409,092 (October 11, 1983).
  • Career: 45+ years at MPC (which started with Ashland Oil in 1975)