Why is fixation of nitrogen important? How did this effect Germany, particularly, in the early 20th century?

1 Answer
Aug 30, 2015

In 1898, William Crookes, called on science to save Europe from impending starvation.

It is through the laboratory that starvation may be turned into plenty. It is the chemist who must come to the rescue of the threatened communities. "


Crookes was talking about man-made nitrogen fixation. Widescale agriculture has previously relied on the importation of nitrates from South America as agricultural fertilizer. Ironically, while Haber and Bosch, both Germans, did eventually develop a high pressure, catalytic process, for the reaction:

#N_2 + 3H_2 rarr NH_3#

This industrial output was directed towards munitions and high explosive rather than agriculture. The result was that during the WWI, Germany starved while it was still able to make high explosives and munitions for its armies. Today, without nitrogen fixation on an industrial scale, the planet could not support its present population in that we could not grow crops to feed ourselves.