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

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

by Vaclav Smil
     
 

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ISBN-10: 0262693135

ISBN-13: 9780262693134

Pub. Date: 04/01/2004

Publisher: MIT Press

The industrial synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen has been of greater fundamental importance to the modern world than the invention of the airplane, nuclear energy, space flight, or television. The expansion of the world's population from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today's six billion would not have been possible without the synthesis of

Overview

The industrial synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen has been of greater fundamental importance to the modern world than the invention of the airplane, nuclear energy, space flight, or television. The expansion of the world's population from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today's six billion would not have been possible without the synthesis of ammonia.

In
Enriching the Earth, Vaclav Smil begins with a discussion of nitrogen's unique status in the biosphere, its role in crop production, and traditional means of supplying the nutrient. He then looks at various attempts to expand natural nitrogen flows through mineral and synthetic fertilizers. The core of the book is a detailed narrative of the discovery of ammonia synthesis by Fritz
Haber -- a discovery scientists had sought for over one hundred years -- and its commercialization by Carl Bosch and the chemical company BASF. Smil also examines the emergence of the large-scale nitrogen fertilizer industry and analyzes the extent of global dependence on the Haber-Bosch process and its biospheric consequences. Finally, it looks at the role of nitrogen in civilization and, in a sad coda, describes the lives of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch after the discovery of ammonia synthesis.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262693134
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
04/01/2004
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
358
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsxi
Transforming the Worldxiii
1Nitrogen in Agriculture: Discovering the Basics1
Discovering Nitrogen2
Nitrogen in Crop Production5
Nitrogen and Legumes13
Completing the Nitrogen Cycle16
2Traditional Sources of Nitrogen: Preindustrial Agricultures21
Recycling of Organic Matter22
Farmyard Manures25
Cultivation of Legumes28
Nitrogen Balances in Traditional Farming31
Limits to Recycling and Legume Cultivation35
3New Sources of the Nutrient: Searching for Fixed Nitrogen39
Guano40
Sodium Nitrate43
By-product Ammonia from Coking48
Synthesis of Cyanamide51
Electric Arc Process53
Plant Nutrients and Future Food Supply55
4A Brilliant Discovery: Fritz Haber's Synthesis of Ammonia61
Haber's Predecessors61
Fritz Haber65
Haber's First Experiments with Ammonia68
Nernst and Haber70
BASF and Haber74
High-Pressure Catalytic Synthesis77
5Creating an Industry: Carl Bosch and BASF83
Carl Bosch85
Designing High-Pressure Converters87
Finding New Catalysts93
Producing the Feedstocks and Oxidizing Ammonia97
The First Ammonia Plant at Oppau99
Ammonia Synthesis for War103
6Evolution of Ammonia Synthesis: Diffusion and Innovation109
Slow Diffusion of Ammonia Production: 1918-1950111
Expansion and Changes Since 1950116
Natural Gas-Based Ammonia Synthesis118
Single-Train Plants with Centrifugal Compressors122
Continuing Innovation127
7Synthetic Fertilizers: Varieties and Applications133
Nitrogen Fertilizers134
Fertilizer Applications: Global Views138
Fertilizer Nitrogen in Global Crop Production143
Regional and National Perspectives145
The Most Productive Agroecosystems152
8Our Dependence on Nitrogen: Agricultures and Populations155
How Many People Does Fertilizer Nitrogen Feed?156
Human Protein Requirements161
Nitrogen in U.S. Agriculture164
Nitrogen in Chinese Farming167
Growing Dependence during the Twenty-first Century172
9Consequences of the Dependence: Human Interference in Nitrogen's Biospheric Cycle177
Intensifying the Global Cycling of Nitrogen178
What Happens to Fertilizer Nitrogen180
Nitrogen Losses in Modern Farming184
Excess Nitrogen and Human Health188
Nitrogen and Natural Ecosystems192
10Nitrogen and Civilization: Managing the Nitrogen Cycle199
What Has Been Accomplished201
More Efficient Fertilizing206
Stabilized Populations211
Rational Diets214
A Long View217
Postscript223
Appendixes233
Notes253
Name Index329
Subject Index331

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