Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the by Vaclav Smil

By Vaclav Smil

The business synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen has been of larger basic significance to the trendy international than the discovery of the aircraft, nuclear strength, area flight, or tv. the growth of the world's inhabitants from 1.6 billion humans in 1900 to state-of-the-art six billion should not have been attainable with out the synthesis of ammonia.

In Enriching the Earth, Vaclav Smil starts off with a dialogue of nitrogen's particular prestige within the biosphere, its function in crop creation, and standard technique of offering the nutrient. He then appears at numerous makes an attempt to extend normal nitrogen flows via mineral and artificial fertilizers. The center of the ebook is an in depth narrative of the invention of ammonia synthesis by means of Fritz Haber -- a discovery scientists had looked for over 100 years -- and its commercialization by means of Carl Bosch and the chemical corporation BASF. Smil additionally examines the emergence of the large-scale nitrogen fertilizer and analyzes the level of world dependence at the Haber-Bosch technique and its biospheric outcomes. eventually, it seems to be on the function of nitrogen in civilization and, in a tragic coda, describes the lives of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch after the invention of ammonia synthesis.

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Extra info for Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production

Sample text

Nutritional considerations have been no less important than low yields and unfavorable energy returns in limiting the expansion of pulse cultivation.

A decade later there was no doubt that adding only the minerals recommended by Liebig produced no significant increase in grain yields when compared to plots receiving no fertilizer. ’’ 47 Publicly, he claimed that the Rothamsted experiments actually support his mineral theory, emphasizing again his view that ammonium fertilizer acts merely as a facilitator for the absorption of minerals by increasing their solubility. That was arguing against the evidence. Rothamsted results showed that clover, even when grown in the absence of any ammonia, removed more minerals than did grain crops while acquiring a much larger concentration of nitrogen, and that the succeeding wheat crop withdrew quantities of minerals as large as the previous crop even when it was not assisted by any ammonia fertilizers.

Oscillatoria and Plectonema, common anaerobic fixers, need no heterocysts. 71 Lightning severs nitrogen’s triple bond thanks to the high pressures and high temperature of electrical discharges, and the element then forms NO and NO 2 . After atmospheric oxidation most of this fixed nitrogen is deposited as NO 3 . Nitrifying bacteria present in soils and waters transform NH 3 to NO 3Ϫ, a more soluble compound plants prefer to assimilate. Assimilated nitrogen is embedded mostly in amino acids that form plant proteins.

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