The institute was founded in 1912 in Mülheim an der Ruhr as the "Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Kohlenforschung". It is thus one of the oldest institutes of the present Max Planck Society. The major achievement of the early years of coal research was undoubtedly the invention of the Fischer-Tropsch Process by Franz Fischer and his co-worker. Using catalysts, it allowed mineral coal to be transformed into transportation fuels, such as gasoline or Diesel oil.
However, after the appointment of Karl Ziegler as the new director of the institute in 1943, coal research became less important and the efforts were directed towards organometallic chemistry. Numerous important chemical discoveries, significant to date, followed. The polymerization of ethylene or propylene with Ziegler catalysts or the cyclooligomerization of 1,3-butadiene to carbocycles (Günther Wilke) were such milestones.
In 1949, the institute was renamed to "Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung" and has the status of a foundation of private law. Today, the scientific work of more than 300 employees is focused on the research of highly selective and energy saving conversion processes. Catalysis with all its aspects is in the center of our activities.
An overview of the Ziegler-era provides the brochure issued by Prof. Haenel on the occasion of awarding the title “Historical Landmarks of Chemistry” of the GDCh in 2008.
The research report includes a historical overview which supplements the chronological data given below.