Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Haber process

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Haber Process


The Haber process must, as any process have a principle to form the idea. In Haber’s case LeChateliers’s principle works nicely. LeChatelier’s principle says that if something is changed in a chemical balance where equilibrium has been achieved then the equilibrium will shift so that equilibrium may be kept. This may create more products or more reactants depending on which side has something changed.


The history of why Haber needed to make his own process dates back to World War 1 in Germany. The problem with Germany is that they have very few natural resources and unfortunately sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate aren’t any of them. Sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate are used in the creation of nitrogen which is then used in conjunction with hydrogen to create ammonia. This is then used for explosives. This is one of those things that they needed to make war on other countries. The allies made a blockade of Europe and Germany couldn’t get the sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate they needed from their trading buddy, Chile in South America.


The Haber process is basically the creation of ammonia using nitrogen and hydrogen which is what they had a very short supply of. They solved their short supply of nitrogen by extracting it from the air (almost 80% nitrogen). Another problem with the creation of ammonia is it is horribly inefficient. The faster you try to make the process happen the less you get and the more the process begins to cost. Unfortunately if you try to slow the process down you get more efficiency but it takes a lot longer. Both of these drawbacks are unacceptable so a change was long overdue. If you can’t have the best of either one then it’s a good idea to meet in the middle somewhere. The middle for ammonia is about 450°C to 500°C and 100 to 00 atm (atmospheric pressure). At normal temperatures and atmospheric pressures it is very difficult to get anything from these two elements but if you use a catalyst you will get very satisfactory results. A catalyst speeds up the reaction without wasting itself doing it. Another handy thing about it is that it speeds up the process. The catalyst produces both products that can come from this reaction because as LeChatelier’s principal states if you apply pressure which in this case would be the heat, the equilibrium will shift to create a new equilibrium.


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The main problem with the creation as I mentioned before is that you have to make a sacrifice of speed of production or amount of production. Speed sacrifices efficiency (how much is produced) the more heat you make the less ammonia you will actually get. To get a lot of Ammonia you can lower the temperature at which the reaction is done and that will get a better efficiency rate. Unfortunately it will take all day just to fill a bucket as opposed to the high speed low efficiency of the option mentioned earlier. With this high speed high production but low efficiency process you will get about 15% of the product. The product that does happen to come out is isolated before it can revert back to nitrogen and hydrogen then it is ready to use. The rest that is not produced will revert back to the nitrogen and hydrogen elements they originally were. That is how you get the ammonia out of two elements.


Without Fritz Haber and his process Germany certainly would have lost the war in a matter of months instead of drawing it out for four long bloody years. Additionally this man was involved in chemical weapons research. That is for another report.





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