Karl Bosh

Karl Bosh

Date of Birth: 27.08.1874
Country: Germany

Biography of Carl Bosch

Carl Bosch, a German chemist, was born in Cologne, in the family of Paula (Liебот) Bosch and Karl Bosch, a successful trader who dealt with the sale of natural gas and sanitary-technical equipment. He was the eldest son and showed exceptional aptitude for natural sciences and technical disciplines from an early age, dreaming of becoming a chemist. However, he spent a year working in various workshops of a metallurgical plant, following his father's wishes, and from 1894 to 1896, he studied metallurgy and mechanical engineering at the Technical University in Charlottenburg (now part of Berlin). After completing his studies, Bosch began studying chemistry at Leipzig University and obtained his doctorate in 1898 for his dissertation on issues of pure organic chemistry. The following year, he started working at the "Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik" (BASF) in Ludwigshafen-on-the-Rhine, a major chemical company specializing in dye production. Under the guidance of Rudolf Knietsch, Bosch assisted in the development of a process for the industrial-scale production of synthetic indigo.

However, Bosch became interested in the problem of nitrogen fixation and conducted experiments with cyanides and metal nitrides. His technical expertise, sound judgment, and organizational skills impressed the management of BASF, and in 1907, he was entrusted with the creation and leadership of an experimental laboratory to test the efficiency of the company's proposed method of barium cyanide production. Significant progress in the development of nitrogen fixation technology was achieved in 1909 when Professor Fritz Haber, a chemist at the Technical University of Karlsruhe, synthesized ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen. This achievement opened up broad possibilities for industrial production, as ammonia could serve as the basis for obtaining sodium nitrate, an important component of explosives. Additionally, when ammonia is absorbed by sulfuric acid, ammonium sulfate is formed, which is an excellent fertilizer. Haber's method required extremely high pressure and temperature, as well as the use of two rare and expensive catalysts - osmium and uranium.

In 1909, BASF acquired the patent for Haber's developed synthesis process and assigned Bosch the task of making this method industrially viable. To solve this enormous task, it was necessary to have a large amount of pure and relatively inexpensive gaseous hydrogen, affordable, efficient, and readily available catalysts, and equipment capable of withstanding both high pressures and high temperatures. Bosch and his team managed to obtain the necessary volumes of hydrogen by extracting it from water gas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide formed when steam is passed over hot coal). They then searched for inexpensive catalysts capable of replacing the expensive osmium and uranium proposed by Haber. Finally, Bosch improved the designs and construction of the equipment capable of withstanding the high pressures and temperatures required for Haber's proposed process.

However, the biggest difficulty lay in the construction of the catalytic column where the reaction was to take place. After several unsuccessful attempts, Bosch concluded that at high pressures and temperatures, gaseous hydrogen passes through the iron walls of the column, transforming the iron into a brittle alloy that eventually breaks down. He decided to separate the effects of temperature and pressure by constructing a double-walled container with an empty annular space between the walls. Hydrogen diffused through the inner cylinder but not the outer. BASF metallurgists welded soft, chrome-plated steel with low carbon content for the inner cylinder and strong carbon steel for the outer. While the reaction between hydrogen and nitrogen took place at a pressure of 200 atmospheres and a temperature of 500°C in the inner cylinder, a mixture of gaseous hydrogen and nitrogen was fed into the space between the cylinders at a pressure of 200 atmospheres. Thus, the inner wall was protected from sudden pressure changes, while the outer wall was subjected to high pressure but not high temperature. In 1913, BASF built the first plant for the industrial production of synthetic ammonia in Oppau, near Ludwigshafen-on-the-Rhine. Here, Bosch created a laboratory for catalytic methods research, tested the phase rule for salt fertilizers, studied photochemistry and polymerization. He also organized a biology research laboratory in Oppau and an experimental agricultural station in Ludwigshafen in 1914.

In 1919, Bosch was appointed managing director of BASF and began working on the inorganic method of methanol synthesis. At that time, methanol - a highly volatile solvent - was mainly used for the production of formaldehyde, a starting material for many organic compounds, especially polymers and fertilizers. As the forest reserves decreased, methanol, produced as a byproduct of carbon processing, became increasingly expensive. In 1923, Bosch and his team synthesized methanol by reacting carbon monoxide and hydrogen at high pressure in the presence of a catalyst. Soon after, they found the optimal conditions for industrial methanol production. In 1925, Friedrich Bergius sold BASF the patent rights to his developed coal hydrogenation process. This was a method of converting coal (which has a relatively high hydrogen content) into liquid fuel by the interaction of gaseous hydrogen and coal at high temperature and pressure. Later that same year, when BASF and six other chemical companies merged to form the "IG Farbenindustrie" conglomerate, Bosch was appointed president of this new gigantic chemical union. Utilizing the experience accumulated by the company's plants in the field of catalysis, hydrogen production, and the creation of high-pressure equipment, Bosch proposed that his colleagues demonstrate the technical feasibility of converting coal into liquid fuel. However, this project was never implemented in industry.

In 1931, Bosch and Bergius were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "in recognition of their contributions to the introduction and development of high-pressure methods in chemistry." In his introductory speech on behalf of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, C.V. Palmeyer summarized the methods developed by the two laureates and described some practical advantages of these methods. In particular, he emphasized that ammonia synthesis prevented the global shortage of fertilizers by replacing the declining reserves of Chilean sodium nitrate. By 1931, the long-term significance of this work for the chemical industry became apparent. In addition to contributing to the production of methanol, urea, and other chemical substances, it had a profound impact on the development of reactor and compressor designs, the use of controlling and stabilizing devices, and the utilization of catalysts. Perhaps even more significant was the fact that Bosch stimulated and supported fundamental research on a multitude of topics. In 1902, Bosch married Elza Schilbach, and they had a son and a daughter. Even in the comfort of his own home, Bosch derived pleasure from scientific pursuits such as collecting butterflies, beetles, plants, and minerals. He spent many hours in his private observatory in Heidelberg and provided continuous financial support to Albert Einstein's astrophysical observatory in Potsdam. In 1935, Bosch became the chairman of the board of directors of "IG Farbenindustrie" and two years later, succeeded Max Planck as the president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (now the Max Planck Society), holding both positions simultaneously. Bosch passed away on April 26, 1940, in Heidelberg.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Bosch was awarded the Liebig Medal by the German Chemical Society and the Karl Lueger Memorial Medal by the Association of German Metallurgists. He received honorary degrees from the Technical Universities of Karlsruhe, Munich, and Darmstadt, as well as the University of Halle.