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Reminiscences of Dr P K Mukhopadhyay - the Guru of downstream Petroleum R&D in India  

Reminiscences of Dr P K Mukhopadhyay - the Guru of downstream Petroleum R&D in India

My first meeting with Dr Mukhopadhyay was on 5th May 1985 when I entered the interview room of R&D director’s chamber. The person sitting on the middle of an oval shaped table was simple in his attire, unassuming but gave an impression of total control. He made the situation very friendly but tried to extract the information which he wanted from the interviewee. I remember, among many questions he asked, one was on mitigation of detrimental effects of metals like Vanadium and Nickel on FCC catalyst. In itself this question could seem to be very simple and general but when I look back he was a person ahead of his time. 25 years after that question, the issue still remains relevant, how to crack heavier feed-stocks in FCC and handle its high Vanadium and Nickel content. An FCC additive named indVi developed today by R&D to handle metal laden FCC feedstocks could really be termed as a fitting tribute to this saint scientist who foresaw it long back.

Dr P K Mukhopadhyay is known as the initiator of Research & Development activities in Indian Oil’s R&D centre at Faridabad. Under his guidance the centre embarked upon the territory of research which was so far the exclusive domain of the multinational companies in the downstream sector. Fluid Cataltytic Cracking, Hydro-processing and research on pipeline transportation of waxy crudes were the areas where he passionately worked for the next 10 years of his stay at the helm of affairs of R & D centre. He guided, supervised and led a team of people who came from various backgrounds, some were experienced , some were new but none had the experience of working in a downstream R& D of a petroleum company of Indian Oil’s stature.

His contribution in spearheading research in Fluid Catalytic cracking process and catalyst characterisation and development (the area I work), simulation and modelling and other related areas of FCC is unparalleled. He developed a master plan for FCC research which till date, is considered as the guiding plan for refining R&D in India. Under his leadership the FCC team within a short span of few years created a remarkable and unmatched infrastructure for FCC in the country. The company started to evaluate FCC catalysts both equilibrium as well as fresh catalysts and provided the refiners a tool to identify the best catalyst available in the country and use it in the refinery to enhance refinery yields. Under his leadership research & development activities on FCC catalyst was started in the centre which resulted in creating the expertise in the country of FCC catalyst and additive development. Characterisation facilities were created, methods developed and new materials were synthesised for use as catalyst components. Development of FCC models to predict plant performance was another of his notable contributions.

Behind his apparently tough exterior, Dr Mukhopadhyay had a kind heart which was always ready to help people irrespective of their rank and position. During the first few years of my commuting from office to Delhi back, many an occasion, he would stop his car on the way and give a lift to wherever I wanted to go. During the long journey he was not a director but talked to me like a friend. He used to shop on way from sector 15 market or buy something from other markets in Delhi. On such occasions I could find streaks of a family man, a father, a husband who cares for his family.

After his retirement whenever we used to meet in the R&D centre when he came to library he will ask about my family daughter and wife and share the news of his daughters study. He was a dedicated father. The last time we talked before his passing away was in January when he told me that he is planning to visit his daughter in Houston whose university has a very good library. Person, 17 years after his retirement still posses the passion for knowledge! It was really something very amazing but inspiring for all those who has seen this saint alive on this land.


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