Carl Bosch was a prominent German industrial chemist and entrepreneur. Notable for the development of the Haber-Bosch process for the high-pressure synthesis of ammonia, he was one of the founders of IG Farben, which became one of the world’s largest chemical companies. Bosch won the 1931 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for formulating chemical high-pressure methods.
Early Life and Education:
Born in Cologne on August 27 1874, Germany to a rich gas supplier, Carl Bosch’s uncle was the legendary industrialist Robert Bosch who helped develop the first spark plug. Carl was the eldest of six children. As a child Carl has a passion for nature and loved collecting minerals and animals. Like his father Carl also enjoyed craftsmanship and made bird cages and a terrarium for his animals.
After finishing gymnasium schooling in 1893, Bosch attended the Technical College of Charlottenburg where he studied metallurgy and mechanical engineering. In 1896 he moved to the University of Leipzig and studied chemistry, physics, minerology and natural science. Carl received his doctoral degree in 1898 with a thesis in organic chemistry.
Bosch then accepted an entry level job at BASF, a leading German chemical company. He first worked on making the compounds required for the synthesis of an artificial indigo pigment.
Contributions and Achievements:
By 1900, Bosch was recognized by his employers as an excellent research chemist and he was assigned to work on the important nitrogen fixation project.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the world was quickly running out of natural fertilizer. A cost effective, industrial process was needed that could make ammonia from nitrogen. The ammonia could then be used to make fertilizer.
After a few false starts, BASF became interested in and funded the research of chemist Fritz Haber. Haber had discovered a laboratory process for synthesizing ammonia. His process gave a 6 – 10 % yield using the catalyst omnium at a pressure of 200 atm (standard atmosphere) and a temperature of 6000C.
In 1909, Haber and Bosch entered into partnership to adapt the laboratory process for synthesizing ammonia into a commercial scale production. A cheaper catalyst, iron with alumina, to replace osmium was discovered. The steel reaction tube was constructed as a double walled chamber, so that the tube could cope with the huge pressures involved.
Bosch and Haber formulated the process that bore their names; the Haber–Bosch process. In this process, ammonia is manufactured on an industrial scale by passing the gases hydrogen and nitrogen over the catalyst at a high temperature and under high pressure. The Haber-Bosch process turned out to be the most commonly used large-scale process for nitrogen fixation. Production at the plant started in 1913 and the plant capacity was 20 tons of ammonia per day.
The next challenge for Bosh was to find an industrial process to make nitric acid from ammonia and a full scale plant was up and running in 1915. Much of the nitric acid was used in the manufacture of gunpowder for the German military in the First World War.
Bosch became a director of BASF in 1916. In 1923 Bosch developed a process for converting carbon monoxide and hydrogen into methanol for use in manufacturing formaldehyde. The industrial process again involved high temperatures and high pressures.
In 1925, Bosch was appointed the president of I.G. Farben. This company was formed from a merger of the eight largest dyestuff companies in Germany. I.G. Farben bought the patents of Friedrich Bergius who had a high pressure method for turning coal into gasoline (hydrogenation of coal). In 1926 I.G. Farben was using tar oil and coal to make over 100,000 metric tons of gasoline a year.
Bosch shared the 1931 Nobel Prize for chemistry with Friedrich Bergius for his work on the invention and development of chemical high-pressure methods. He became a successor to Max Planck in 1935 as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.
Personal Details and Death:
In 1902 Bosch married Else Schilback and the couple had a son and a daughter.
Carl Bosch died after a prolonged illness on April 26, 1940 in Heidelberg, Germany. He was 65 years old.