Contributers to Agriculuture: Fritz Haber (December 1868-January 1934)
Father of Ammoniated Nitrogen for plant nutrients
By Matt Aultman
Haber was born in Breslau, Germany. From 1886 until 1891, he studied at the University of Heidelberg under Robert Bunsen (more noted for the Bunsen burner like what is found in many Chemistry classrooms). Before starting his own academic career, he worked at his father’s chemical business and in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with George Lunge, an outstanding professor on the subject of Industrial Chemistry.
During his time at University of Karlsruhe from 1894 to 1911, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed the Haber process, which is the catalytic formation of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under conditions of high temperature and pressure. He was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work (he actually received the award in 1919).
The Haber-Bosch process was a milestone in industrial chemistry, because it divorced the production of nitrogen products, such as fertilizer, explosives and chemical feedstocks, from natural deposits, especially sodium nitrate (caliche), of which Chile was a major (and almost unique) producer.
Naturally extracted nitrate production in Chile fell from 2.5 million tons (employing 60,000 workers and selling at $45/ton) in 1925 to just 800,000 tons, produced by 14,133 workers, and selling at $19/ton in 1934. The annual world production of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is currently more than 100 million tons. The food base of half of the current world population is based on the Haber-Bosch process.
He was also active in the research of combustion reactions, the separation of gold from sea water, adsorption effects, and electrochemistry. He has also been described as the “father of chemical warfare” for his work developing and deploying chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I.
Fritz Haber contributed to agriculture by developing an inexpensive form of fertilizer, so farmers could produce more crops to feed a growing world.
Matt Aultman is the chairman of the Agriculture Committee or the Darke County Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the membership committee of the Darke County Farm Bureau