THE TURNING POINT: THE HABER-BOSCH PROCESS

"The most important things are done through tubes. Proof: genitals, pens, and guns." Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.

Lichtenberg did not know one of the most important tubes of the history of the world, yet: The reaction tube of the Haber-Bosch process. In this giant and heavily armoured chamber, filled with iron catalyst, nitrogen is broken up and transformed into ammonia.

Synthetic fertilizers are produced from ammonia. It gives rise to larger harvests. The enormous population increase of the last 100 years would not have been possible without the Haber-Bosch process.
Environmental scientists estimate that 40 % of the now-living people could not be fed without the ammonia synthesis also referred to as the Haber-Bosch process. The reaction chamber truly has live-giving power.

FROM NITROGEN TO AMMONIA – FROM AMMONIA TO PRESSBOARD

In addition to synthetic fertilizers, by intermediate steps of the manufacturing process, melamine resin, nylon, many glues and most explosives are made from the Haber-Bosch ammonia. The binding urethane resins of the exhibition's pressboard panels (MDF) stem from ammonia synthesis.

FRITZ HABER

Fritz Haber (1868 – 1934) grew up in Breslau as the son of a retailer. He completed his studies of chemistry in Heidelberg and Berlin with a doctorate in 1891. After his habilitation in Karlsruhe in 1896 he remained as a professor at that university. With an employment contract he ceded the commercial use of the synthesis of ammonia, one of the patents he submitted, to BASF . For his research on the synthesis of ammonia from its constituting elements he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918.

In 1912 he was named Director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. After the National Socialists introduced the Aryan paragraphs in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Society, Haber, of Jewish origin, emigrated and followed a call to Cambridge. Deeply shaken by the events in Germany, he died only a year later in a hotel room in Basel.

CARL BOSCH

Carl Bosch (1874 – 1940) grew up in Cologne as the son of a wholesaler for installation supplies. He studied machine construction and refining at first, and then switched to chemistry. After the completion of his studies in 1988 he was employed in the main laboratory of BASF. From 1909 to 1913 Carl Bosch developed the Haber-Bosch process for ammonia synthesis with his team.

On account of his success he rapidly rose to Chairmen of the Board of BASF and then later of the I. G. Farbenindustrie AG. He received numerous awards and honorable distinctions that culminated in the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1931.

SYNTHETIC FERTILIZERS

Until 9th of September 1913 almost all of the reactive nitrogen on Earth stemmed from natural processes with the greatest shares generated by bacteria. With the Haber-Bosch process it was, for the first time, possible to produce synthetic fertilizers on a very large scale. In addition to nitrogen, synthetic fertilizers usually contain other nutrients, above all phosphate, potassium and trace elements. Nevertheless, nitrogen is the most important factor for plant growth. Yellow leaves are an indication for a lack of nitrogen since plants need nitrogen to produce green chlorophyll.