Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

100 years of ammonia synthesis: how a single patent changed the world

29.09.2008
Now it is time to invent sustainable solutions to avoid environmental damage

As a result of the Haber–Bosch process for the synthesis of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen, billions of people have been fed, millions have died in armed conflict and a cascade of environmental changes has been set in motion - suggests a feature article by scientists from four of the world’s leading environmental research centres that will be published online on 28 September in Nature Geoscience.

The feature appears 100 years after Fritz Haber filed his patent on the ‘synthesis of ammonia from its elements’ for which he was later awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Lead author, Jan Willem Erisman from the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), explains: “The increasing demand for food and biofuels makes efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer and more sustainable energy a challenge for many. Haber-Bosch is perhaps the most significant invention of the 20th Century, yet it has many side effects. Now we need a new invention that changes the world just as much, but without the environmental impact.”

The feature article explains that we now live in a world transformed by, and highly dependent upon, Haber-Bosch nitrogen. This extra nitrogen has allowed large scale production of explosives with the result of millions of casualties. On the other hand, it has created an enormous chemical industry producing materials and goods for society. The major impact, however, has been the large scale production of fertilizers supporting almost half of the world's population through increased food production.

While the use of nitrogen as a fertilizer has brought enormous benefits, losses of fertilizer nitrogen to the environment lead to many side effects. These include reduced biodiversity and the formation of marine algal blooms. Nitrogen compounds endanger the quality of drinking water, and contribute to air pollution as well as climate change, affecting life quality and the health of large parts of the population.

Future scenarios suggest that such problems will become more extreme, with a potential doubling of fertilizer use predicted over the coming century. This demand is partly driven by the growing requirement for ‘nitrogen hungry’ biofuels. These environmental challenges highlight the need for a new invention, as transforming as the Haber-Bosch process that would benefit both society and the global environment.

The feature concludes by arguing that today’s society is dependent on a nitrogen-based economy and discusses some of the challenges we are likely to face in the next 100 years.

The global nitrogen challenge is an issue that is set to receive more attention in the future. For example, the European Commission is funding the NitroEurope project, a consortium of over 60 research institutions, which is investigating the effect of nitrogen on global warming. Its results will feed into the work of the ‘Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen’, recently established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE).

Mark Sutton from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who is co-chair of the UN-ECE Task Force and one of the feature’s authors, commented: “It is remarkable how a century of Haber-Bosch nitrogen has transformed all our lives. Without it, half of us might not be alive today. At the same time, the environmental impacts of nitrogen cut across all global change issues. To reduce these effects, we must improve nitrogen use efficiency, especially in food production.”

The research programme of Erisman and colleagues at ECN further highlights the role of bioenergy in the nitrogen cycle. ECN is developing second generation technology for bioenergy and biofuels that will contribute to limiting fertilizer use in the future.

Barnaby Smith | alfa
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/
http://www.ceh.ac.uk

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Decision-making research in children: Rules of thumb are learned with time
19.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht Young people discover the "Learning Center"
20.09.2016 | Research Center Pharmaceutical Engineering GmbH

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>