Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

 

The federal government and the fixed nitrogen industry, 1915-1926 Public Deposited

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  • During the First World War, the need to secure a domestic supply of nitrate compounds necessary to the manufacture of explosives caused the federal government to undertake an extensive program of research and development of industrial nitrogen fixation processes. These government activities were to have far-reaching consequences for the development of the American chemical industry. At the outbreak of the war, Congress passed legislation appropriating $20,000,000 for the construction of plants which would produce nitrates for wartime use. Extensive study and review by various government agencies of currently available industrial nitrogen fixation processes led to the decision to build a synthetic ammonia plant using an experimental process developed by the General Chemical Company. The construction of a second plant was later authorized to use the process of the American Cyanamid Company. These two plants were. constructed near Florence, Alabama, and were completed just as the war ended. Three research facilities were established durinq the war by the Army Nitrate Abstract approved: aie1) P. Jones Division, at Laurel Hill, New York, at Sheffield, Alabama and at Arlington Farms, Virginia. These three experiment stations did industrial research aimed at improving the synthetic ammonia process at Plant #1, and succeeded in making a number of significant modifications in that process before the plants and these laboratories were closed at the war's end. While Congress argued about the disposition of these plants, the War Department established the Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory in Washington D. C. to perfect the synthetic ammonia process, and to find a peacetime use for the product of the cyanamid plant. This laboratory operated until 1926. Although congressional battles prevented the plants from benefiting from the Laboratory's research during its existence, that research was of major importance to the American fixed nitrogen industry. Due to the wartime research done on its process, the General Chemical Company was able to become the largest producer of ammonia in the United States within a few years. An improved ammonia synthesis catalyst was developed by the Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory, and a large body of data on all aspects of the ammonia synthesis reaction was collected which was then used in the following decade for theorectical studies of catalytic action. The Laboratory served as a training school for industrial chemists, and as a model for the kind of project-oriented team research which has since characterized industrial research activity. Thus, rather than serving only to provide an assured supply of explosives; as had been intended, the fixed nitrogen activities of the government proved to have their greatest effect in the improvement of the American nitrogen fixation industry, and the economic growth of the country.
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