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Enriching the Earth - Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch and the Transformation of World Food Production (Anglais) Broché – 7 mai 2004


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The industrial synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen has been of greater fundamental importance to the modern world than the invention of the airplane, nuclear energy, space flight, or television. The expansion of the world's population from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today's six billion would not have been possible without the synthesis of ammonia.In Enriching the Earth, Vaclav Smil begins with a discussion of nitrogen's unique status in the biosphere, its role in crop production, and traditional means of supplying the nutrient. He then looks at various attempts to expand natural nitrogen flows through mineral and synthetic fertilizers. The core of the book is a detailed narrative of the discovery of ammonia synthesis by Fritz Haber -- a discovery scientists had sought for over one hundred years -- and its commercialization by Carl Bosch and the chemical company BASF. Smil also examines the emergence of the large-scale nitrogen fertilizer industry and analyzes the extent of global dependence on the Haber-Bosch process and its biospheric consequences. Finally, it looks at the role of nitrogen in civilization and, in a sad coda, describes the lives of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch after the discovery of ammonia synthesis.


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39 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Too many statistics, not enough science and history 6 juillet 2001
Par Jeffrey S. Bonwick - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
The Haber process is arguably the most significant development of the 20th century, yet it remains virtually unknown to the general public. There are a few chapters on the history and chemistry of this vital process, and they are reasonably well written. But the vast majority of the book is an endless litany of statistics, completely devoid of narrative structure. For example:
"In the United Kingdom more than half of all nitrogen fertilizer has been applied to grasslands. A Royal Society study found that in the late 1970s average applications on pastures surpassed the inputs to arable land (172 vs. 135 kg N/ha), and that synthetic compounds accounted for 57-63% of all inputs. The overall use of fertilizer nitrogen in the United Kingdom rose by almost 50% between the late 1970s and the mid 1980s, but it declined afterwards, and its average during the late 1990s has been only about 20% higher than a generation earlier, which means that the synthetic fertilizers supply between 65 and 70% of all nitrogen inputs. But high-yielding winter wheat -- the 1998 mean was 7.97 t/ha -- still receives more than 180 kg N/ha, double the amount applied in 1970 when the yield was around 4 t/ha, and the secular correlation between the rising applications of inorganic nitrogen and rising harvests is obvious (fig. 7.8)."
Now imagine 300 more pages of text just like that, and you get the idea. There is no *story* here, just data. It's a shame, because there is definitely a story to be told.
The material on the Haber process itself is better, but not great. In particular, the author can't seem to choose the level of the audience: descriptions of chemistry alternate between being too simplistic and assuming too much. Details essential to understanding often seemed to be missing, while details of no apparent relevance are in abundance. I don't really care whether the process takes place under 137 vs. 152 atmospheres; but I do care *why* the pressure is so critical, which is never explained.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. There *is* plenty of good material here, but you have to sort through a lot of empty statistics to get it, and the omission of key pieces of scientific explanation makes for a painfully frustrating read.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Nitrogen in agriculture: from composting and guano to Haber-Bosch and artificial fertilizers 25 mars 2007
Par lector avidus - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
First of all, this is not a book that most people would take to the beach to read, but rather a fairly scientific book on the use of nitrogen in agriculture, as befits a publication of MIT Press.

Smil initially set out to write a biography of Fritz Haber, but found that Haber's contribution to agriculture was so much more complicated than he could fit into a biography. Instead, he wrote a history of nitrogen supplements in agriculture. The amount of nitrogen is by far the main determinant of crop yield; within common sense limits, a crop's yield is more or less linearly dependent on how much nitrogen a farmer spreads on his fields. In the 1910s, Fritz Haber and Bosch, devised a way to extract nitrogen from the air; until then farmers had been dependent on compost and the shipments of guano (bird dung) from South America to get more nitrogen onto their fields. The results include a huge increase in crop yields, a huge decrease in the percentage of the population that must toil the fields, a huge increase in literacy and much more.

Smil's book is quite interesting to anyone interested by science; if you have a teen that you are trying to interest in science, this is a book you could send his way. If you're averse to the occasional number, equation, graph, or scientific nomenclature, you're best off avoiding this book. These caveats stipulated, I highly recommend this book.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Nitrogen in Agriculture -- The Haber-Bosch Process 19 juin 2001
Par Scott Holub - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This is a great book for any one interested in the way the Haber-Bosch process of making Nitrogen fertilizer changed the world. Enriching the Earth provides in depth information on the history that led up to the discovery of the process of using N2 and H2 to make NH3. It also contains up to date information on the effects that all of this new nitrogen has on the earth.
The book can get a little technical at times, with chemical formulas and schematics of the instruments. While I found this information useful, some people might find it overwhelming. If you skip over the techincal parts, the book is very well written for the average person.
These little known scientists really changed the world as we know it. When you think about it, what has Einstein done for you lately? These guys put food on the table.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting 17 novembre 2012
Par R. Albin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This is an interesting and interdisciplinary examination of one of the most important technological innovations of the 20th century; the Haber-Bosch nitrogen fixation process. To explain the impact of this innovation, Smil explains the importance of nitrogen in the biosphere and agriculture, the complex nitrogen cycle, and has an extended discussion of how the Haber-Bosch process affected modern agriculture and demography. In the first half-two thirds of the book, Smil nicely and concisely cover both the basics of nitrogen cycling, the discovery of the importance of nitrogen in agriculture, and the discovery and implementation of the Haber-Bosch process. Briefly, nitrogen is an essential element for many, many crucial biomolecules including amino acids and nucleotides. While nitrogen is abundant in the biosphere, it is largely in the form of non-bioavailable atmospheric N2. As realized in the first half of the 19th century by talented European scientists, the amount of bioavailable nitrogen in soils is a major limiting factor in soil fertility and agricultural productivity. What is called by some the First Green Revolution in the second half of the 19th century was based on inorganic fertilizers mined from guano and other deposits in South America. By the end of the 19th century, it was quite clear that some substitute for this non-renewable resource would need to be discovered to maintain or increase agricultural productivity. Enter a number of talented chemists, mostly Germans, who worked on this problem in the years just before WWI. Fritz Haber made the crucial breakthrough, developing a method to produce ammonia from atmospheric N2. Carl Bosch, leading a team of talented chemists and engineers at the German firm BASF, rapidly scaled up Haber's process to produce a commercially viable and remarkably productive industrial process.

In the remainder of the book, Smil covers further developments of the industrialization of nitrogen fixation, its use in agriculture, and both the productive and deleterious impacts of increased use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers. Smil shows the importance of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers for modern agriculture in both developed adn developing nations. He shows that such fertilizers made possible much of the enhanced agricultural productivity of recent years. In developed countries like the USA, this made possible agricultural exports and meat production, in developing nations like China, the expansion of grain production for feeding expanding populations. Smil provides a reasonable estimate of the contribution of inorganic fertilizers to population growth across the 20th century. While the exact number is unknowable, it must be the range of hundreds of millions to 1-2 billion humans. Since most industrially produced inorganic nitrogen fertilizer is based on the Haber-Bosch process, a great deal of world-wide population growth and improved nutrition can be attributed to the achievements of a relatively small number of talented German chemists and engineers working just prior to WWI. Smil is also very good on the negative impacts of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer use, notably eutrophication. This book is an interesting combination of biology, historical research, and demographic analysis.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A superb account of the synthesis of ammonia and the role of nitrogen in agriculture 19 mars 2010
Par Paul Moreno - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
No other technology of the 20th Century had more effect on raising the standard of living of the people of the world than the synthesis of ammonia which allowed the population to be several times higher than it otherwise would have been and also greatly reduced hunger and malnutrition in most parts of the world.

The book begins with the early science of chemistry and the development of a basic understanding of crop nutrition and the role of nitrogen in the early 1800's. After nitrogen's vital role was established a fertilizer industry based on guano and later Chilean nitrates, but supplies were being depleted. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers were developed in the late 1800's, but the processes were very costly.

Fritz Haber built on the works of other chemists and eventually determined conditions (temperature, pressure, catalyst) whereby ammonia could be synthesized from hydrogen and nitrogen with a satisfactory yield. The process required high pressures and elevated temperatures which had never been used on an industrial scale before. It was Carl Bosch, a chemical engineer, who believed the process could be commercialized, and proceeded to develop the field of high pressure chemistry.

This is an excellent semi-technical book because: 1) subject matter importance, 2) overall it was interesting because it is part historical, part biographical, part popular science, 3) it is exceptionally well researched and documented. However, while it was very easy for a chemical engineer like myself to read, I am not sure it would be appreciated by someone without a similar background, although the sections pertaining to the use of nitrogen fertilizers may be of interest to those involved with agriculture. Also, it is highly recommended to economists involved with the impacts of technology on the economy.
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