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Staggering thought for the day

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default Staggering thought for the day

Post by Chilli-head on 29th August 2012, 6:52 pm

According to Wikipedia:


The Haber process is important today because the fertilizer generated from ammonia is responsible for sustaining one-third of the Earth's population. It is estimated that half of the protein within human beings is made of nitrogen that was originally fixed by this process

Now, it only has a BBC citation for that last snippet, but what a statistic. 50% of human protein from ammonia derived fertilisers, made using fossil fuel hydrogen. Where is the room for debate over whether a population of 9bn will be sustainable ?
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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Dandelion on 30th August 2012, 1:31 pm

CH - can you put into a short snappy sentence what the Haber process is (for us non-scientists)?

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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Chilli-head on 30th August 2012, 2:16 pm

For those who didn't study chemistry at "A" level, or paid even less attention than I did Embarassed

It is a process to produce ammonia (NH3) by combining nitrogen and hydrogen.

Nitrogen comes from air, but it is not very reactive. The process uses a catalyst to cause it to react with hydrogen. The major source of the hydrogen is from methane, natural gas.

The significance of this is that the ammonia made by the Haber process is reactive enough to produce other nitrogen compounds. It is the first step in producing nitrate fertilisers.
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Post by Dandelion on 30th August 2012, 10:49 pm

Thanks, that's really helpful.

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Hairyloon on 29th October 2012, 11:48 am

I had a thought about the Haber process.
The basic problem is that it requires a lot of pressure and takes a lot of energy (partly to create the pressure).

Consider the ocean. There is plenty of energy out there free for the taking (wind, wave, PV), and plenty of room to be away from the NIMBY's.
And also, there is no shortage of pressure, all you need to do is go down: you would not need a strong pressure vessel because the forces would be in equilibrium.

Hydrogen can be produced at depth by hydrolysis, Nitrogen would have to be pumped down, but that is not difficult.

The problem I am stumped on is that it is a hot process, and the deep ocean is cold, so you would need a lot of insulation, and insulation is usually pretty buoyant...
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Post by Mike on 1st November 2012, 1:38 pm

Separate those concepts. Yes, presumably possible to create giant floating factories using wind and/or wave action for the power source to power the Haber process. We can't use such facilities as power sources connected to the grid (too far out) but for making on site use of the energy, yes.

But no reason/purpose to use the depths for the pressure. Saves nothing (think about it a little). In any case it is only the net losses in the compression/expansion cycle that take energy.

However -- the Haber process is described in terms of its main use now. Wasn't developed to produce nitrates for fertilizer but nitrates to make explosives so Germany would be able to wage war even blockaded from sources of nitrates. Made WWI possible.

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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Hairyloon on 1st November 2012, 1:55 pm

Mike wrote:Separate those concepts. Yes, presumably possible to create giant floating factories using wind and/or wave action for the power source to power the Haber process. We can't use such facilities as power sources connected to the grid (too far out) but for making on site use of the energy, yes.
That was the main thrust of the idea.

But no reason/purpose to use the depths for the pressure. Saves nothing (think about it a little).
If nothing else, it saves building a pressure vessel, and I'm missing how you pump it to pressure without energy.
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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Chilli-head on 1st November 2012, 2:05 pm

Ahh yes. I should add that I started this thread because I find the amazing claim - 50 % of the nitrogen in human protein having being fixed by the Haber process - provides an interesting insight into how sustainable the human population is, or rather isn't.

I didn't mean in any way to glorify the work of Fritz Haber, who contributed to both explosive production and poison gas development. It is perhaps ironic, though that while is it is not uncommon for harm to come by accident from work done with good intentions, Haber acheived the rather less common reverse - did something to the good whilst intending harm.
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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Hairyloon on 3rd November 2012, 7:50 pm

Chilli-head wrote:Ahh yes. I should add that I started this thread because I find the amazing claim - 50 % of the nitrogen in human protein having being fixed by the Haber process - provides an interesting insight into how sustainable the human population is, or rather isn't.
Damn. I was planning to start up making explosives. :?

The population is entirely sustainable, we just need to shift all the Haber plants onto sustainable energy sources.
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default Re: Staggering thought for the day

Post by Chilli-head on 5th November 2012, 5:15 pm

Hairyloon wrote:
Damn. I was planning to start up making explosives. :?

Be very careful if you start playing with nitrates and all that Glycerol you have. Very tricky business, that Shocked
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