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Commercial Production of Ammonia

Ammonia Synthesis

What is Ammonia?
Ammonia Synthesis
The Haber-Bosch Process
The Uses of Ammonia Today
Refrences and Links

Although both nitrogen and hydrogen are abundantly available, ammonia itself is not readily found in nature because of the strengh of the N to N bond which must be broken before it can combine with hydrogen to form  NH3

In ancient times, ammonia was derived from organic substances like manure or urine. During the middle ages ammonia was even collected from distilling the horns and hooves of oxen. This solution was called 'spirits of hartshorn'. In the 18th and 19th centuries ammonia was recovered from vapours of natural steam vents and large quantities were produced from Chile salpeter which is sodium nitrate, NaNO3. At the end of the 19th century, Chile Salpeter supplies were running out and it was realised that unless new source of nitrogen compounds could be found,  food production would suffer and there were fears of the world population starving. Many scientist and chemists started working on ways to form ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen. In 1909 a German chemist Fritz Haber became the first  person  to successfully synthesize ammonia in a laboratory. Haber's process used a catalyst in the synthesis reaction which took place at very high temperature and pressure.

In 1913 another German, Carl Bosch developed Haber's process further so that it could be practically produced in large scale industrial plants. This process then became known as the Harber-Bosch process.

The Haber process was one of the most important milestones in the chemical industry and the process of combining nitrogen with hydrogen in the form of ammonia contributed to the rapid growth of the chemical industry in the 20th century. In recognition of this, Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918 "for the synthesis of ammonia from its elements".

Click here for more information on Fritz Haber's Nobel Prize award and the presentation speech. Close the link (X button) to return

Mass Balance:
The reaction for ammonia synthesis is given by:
                             N2      +     3 H2 < == > 2 NH3     
                           (14x2) +   3(1x2)    =>   2(14+ 3)
By using atomic weights for nitrogen (14), hydrogen (1) and ammonia (17) we get the mass balance for this reaction:
28 units of mass of nitrogen + 6 units of mass of hydrogen will give 34 units of mass of ammonia.