Ernest Solvay developed the ammonia-soda process

Ernest Solvay – developer of ammonia-soda process

Article on Ernest Solvay

Biography & Contributions

Ernest Solvay [Ernest Gaston Joseph Solvay] was a Belgian chemist, industrialist and philanthropist born on April 16, 1838 – died on May 26, 1922. Solvay was the developer of ammonia-soda process.

He developed the ammonia-soda process for the manufacturing of soda ash from brine and limestone, widely used in the manufacture of such products as glass and soap.

Most soda ash at the time was produced by the Leblanc process of converting common salt, a method which was expensive and created unusable byproducts. Solvay solved the practical problems of conducting the ammonia-soda process on a large scale, unaware that many chemists had tried and failed to do this over the past fifty years.

Solvay devised carbonating towers, which allowed large amounts of ammonia, salt solution, and carbon dioxide to be mixed. Solvay process also allowed the recovery of expensive ammonia, which could then be reused.

Solvay Process

Solvay process is the major industrial process for the production of sodium carbonate. The name "soda ash" is based on the principal historical method of obtaining alkali, which was by using water to extract it from the ashes of certain plants. The ingredients for this process are readily available and inexpensive: salt brine and limestone (from mines).

2 NaCl + CaCO3 → Na2CO3 + CaCl2

Sodium Carbonate

Sodium carbonate most commonly occurs as a crystalline heptahydrate, and sodium salt of carbonic acid. Sodium carbonate is well known domestically for its everyday use as a water softener. It can be extracted from the ashes of many plants growing in sodium-rich soils. It is a common additive in municipal pools used to neutralize the corrosive effects of chlorine and raise the pH. It is also used as a primary standard for acid-base titrations because it is solid and air-stable, making it easy to weigh accurately. Sodium carbonate is also used as a descaling agent in boilers such as those found in coffee pots and espresso machines.

Leblanc Process

Leblanc process involves production of sodium sulfate from sodium chloride, followed by reaction of the sodium sulfate with coal and calcium carbonate to produce sodium carbonate. The Leblanc process was a batch process in which sodium chloride was subjected to a series of treatments, eventually producing sodium carbonate. In the first step, the sodium chloride was heated with sulfuric acid to produce sodium sulfate (called the salt cake) and hydrogen chloride gas according to the chemical equation

2NaCl + H2SO4 → Na2SO4 + 2HCl

Sodium Chloride

Sodium Chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of seawater and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms. In the form of edible or table salt it is commonly used as a condiment and food preservative.

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