Minerals, Metals, and Other Materials

Man-Made Products

Who developed the process for making ammonia?

Known since ancient times, ammonia (NH3) has been commercially important for more than one hundred years. The first breakthrough in the large-scale synthesis of ammonia resulted from the work of Fritz Haber (1863–1934). In 1913, Haber found that ammonia could be produced by combining nitrogen and hydrogen (N2 3H2 ? 2NH3) with a catalyst (iron oxide with small quantities of cerium and chromium) at 131°F (55°C) under a pressure of about 200 atmospheres. The process was adapted for industrial-quality production by Karl Bosch (1874–1940). Thereafter, many improved ammonia-synthesis systems, based on the Haber-Bosch process, were commercialized using various operating conditions and synthesis loop-designs. One of the five top inorganic chemicals produced in the United States, it is used in refrigerants, detergents, and other cleaning preparations, explosives, fabrics, and fertilizers. Most ammonia production in the United States is used for fertilizers. It has been shown to produce cancer of the skin in humans in doses of 1,000 milligram per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight.


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