Justus Liebig known as the father of the fertilizer industry

Justus Liebig – father of fertilizer industry

Article on Justus Liebig

Biography & contributions

Justus Liebig was a German chemist born on May 12, 1803 – died on April 18, 1873. Liebig was considered as father of the fertilizer industry.

Liebig discovered that nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient, isomerism of cyanic and fulminic acids. He formulated Law of the Minimum, described an improved method for the manufacture of potassium cyanide. Liebig developed a manufacturing process for beef extracts. In 1835 he invented a process for silvering of mirrors and Liebig condenser. Liebig also did much to further the hydrogen theory of acids.

Liebig believed that nitrogen must be supplied to plant roots in the form of ammonia, and recognized the possibility of substituting chemical fertilizers for natural ones.

Nitrogen overview

Nitrogen is abundant in our atmosphere but rare in the soil. It is naturally fixed by bacteria on the roots of leguminous plants, or by a strike of lightning. The Haber-Bosch process was developed in the early 20th century to combine nitrogen from the air with hydrogen at high temperature and pressure to make anhydrous ammonia (NH3), the basis for all synthetic nitrogen fertilizers as well as munitions used in warfare.

The hydrogen source for the process is natural gas, a non-renewable resource that currently accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the cost of fertilizer production. Nitrogen fertilizers enable farmers to achieve the high yields that drive modern agriculture. The use of nitrogen fertilizer will continue to increase substantially as global population and food requirements grow. Nitrogen is found in all living cells and is an essential component of amino acids, chlorophyll, DNA and enzymes.

Nitrogen in fertilizers can come from inorganic and/or organic sources. Examples of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer include anhydrous ammonia, ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, urea, calcium nitrate and ammonium bicarbonate.

Fulminic Acid

Fulminic acid is an organic acid and an isomer of isocyanic acid, the silver salt of which was discovered one year later by Friedrich Woehler. Fulminic acid and its salts, for instance mercury fulminate, are very dangerous, and are often used as detonators for other explosive materials.

Potassium cyanide

Potassium cyanide is colorless crystalline salt, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Potassium cyanide is used primarily as a processing aid in electroplating. Potassium cyanide melting point of this substance is 635 °C and the boiling point 1625°C.

Potassium cyanide of 99.5+ per cent purity can be prepared by using high-quality HCN and potassium hydroxide (KOH). Potassium Cyanide readily biodegrades, the potential for environmental exposure is limited. Potassium Cyanide degrades into another chemical that is not bioaccumulative in aquatic or terrestrial environments.

Liebig Condenser

Liebig condenser is much more efficient than a simple retort due to its use of liquid for cooling. Water can absorb much more heat than the same volume of air, and its constant circulation through the water jacket keeps the condenser's temperature constant. Therefore, a Liebig condenser can condense a much greater flow of incoming vapor than an air condenser or retort.

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