The beginning of the twentieth century was a period when the demand for ammonia rose exponentially. There was an effective process of generating it from huge guano deposits in Chile. However, this option did not satisfy those who required large amounts of ammonia for producing nitrates and explosives. Fritz Haber was the one to eventually solve this problem by creating a process of synthesizing ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen. This was a huge success, but the invention of this reaction has also opened a road to disaster.
Synthesizing ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen was no easy feat and it is a proof of Haber’s talent and skill that he managed to refine the reaction that changed the world in many ways. The biggest problem with this chemical process in its initial form was extremely slow. As such, it was impossible to use it for industrial purposes. The problem was caused by an extremely high temperature that was required to activate the reaction. Haber experimented and managed to find a solution that allowed him to make the reaction fast enough. The price to pay for it was an extremely high level of activation energy. This directly led to one of the most dangerous consequences of active ammonia synthesis, resource depletion.
Ammonia is used in nitrates, fertilizers that are so efficient that their use managed to solve the problem of hunger in many parts of the world. There is no denying the fact that this outcome is welcome and should be celebrated. However, there is a darker side to the Haber process. The fact that it requires a great amount of coal to activate means that a huge part of the mined coal goes to the companies that produce fertilizers. The demand for them is enormous, and so is the amount of energy needed. The supply of coal, though, is not unlimited. Its excessive mining disrupts the ecosystem and brings people closer to the moment when there simply will not be enough coal to use as fuel. There are still no feasible alternatives that can replace this energy source.
Nitrates are also highly toxic and are majorly responsible for environmental pollution. Haber process itself produces a great amount of “greenhouse gas” that deals a serious damage to the ecosystem.
There is no denying the fact that Haber process played a major positive part in history of the world. Millions of people were saved from famine due to the creation of this reaction. Unfortunately, this is not enough to outweigh the negative effects this reaction has on the environment. Alternatives to nitrates must be found as soon as possible to protect the health of the planet.
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