Ammonia and the Fertiliser Industry: The Development of Ammonia at Billingham
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It is over 100 years since the Haber-Bosch process began in 1913 with the world’s first ammonia synthesis plant. It led to the first synthetic fixed nitrogen, of which today over 85% is used to make fertiliser responsible for feeding around 50% of the world’s human population. With a growing population and rising living standards worldwide, the need to obtain reliable, economic supplies of this vital plant nutrient for crop growth is as important as ever. This article details the historic background to the discovery and development of a process “of greater fundamental importance to the modern world than the airplane, nuclear energy, spaceflight or television” (1, 2). It covers the role of the Billingham, UK, site in developing the process up to the present day. The technology was pioneered in Germany and developed commercially by BASF. In 1998 ICI’s catalyst business, now Johnson Matthey, acquired BASF’s catalytic expertise in this application and now Johnson Matthey is a world-leading supplier of catalyst and technology for ammonia production globally.