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Discovery and Development of a Catalyst

picture: a field of wheat
picture: Haber, a german scientist

Haber won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918 for his contribution to the development of
ammonia synthesis.

80% of the ammonia manufactured is used to make fertiliser.

UK annual production: 1.3 million tonnes
World annual production: 140 million tonnes

Haber and Bosch tested some 20,000 candidate catalysts. Today we use similar methodology but with automated methods and high throughput screening. Eventually they found an iron ore from Sweden that worked well. It happened to contain traces of alumina and alkali metal compounds.

The synthesis of ammonia is one of the most studied and best-understood surface catalysed reactions. Modern catalysts are not much different from Haber's original one.

Modern catalytic technology was born in Germany early this century with the development of the Haber process for the synthesis of ammonia, a process contributing to the ability of the human population to feed itself.