Author(s): Vaclav Smil
The industrial synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen has been of greater fundamental importance to the modern world than the invention of the airplane, nuclear energy, space flight, or television. The expansion of the world's population from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today's six billion would not have been possible without the synthesis of ammonia. In Enriching the Earth, Vaclav Smil begins with a discussion of nitrogen's unique status in the biosphere, its role in crop production, and traditional means of supplying the nutrient. He then looks at various attempts to expand natural nitrogen flows through mineral and synthetic fertilizers. The core of the book is a detailed narrative of the discovery of ammonia synthesis by Fritz Haber -- a discovery scientists had sought for over one hundred years -- and its commercialization by Carl Bosch and the chemical company BASF. Smil also examines the emergence of the large-scale nitrogen fertilizer industry and analyzes the extent of global dependence on the Haber-Bosch process and its biospheric consequences.
Finally, it looks at the role of nitrogen in civilization and, in a sad coda, describes the lives of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch after the discovery of ammonia synthesis.
I am tremendously impressed with this book. It will make a very significant contribution to the literature on the Haber-Bosch processof nitrogen synthesis, but perhaps even more significant, to putting into perspective the importance of nitrogen fertilizer to humanity. -- E. T. York, Chancellor Emeritus, University System of Florida, and Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, University of Florida The history of an industrial process that creates ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen sounds at best boring. However, in his sixteenth book, Vaclav Smil has done his usual outstanding job of creating a fascinating reading adventure. Starting with the statement that almost two thirds of the global population owes its existence to the discovery of the Haber-Bosch process in the early 20th century, the book reviews the history of the discovery, provides, fascinating details about the driving forces behind the discovery, and as important, looks to the future. Anyone with an interest in how humans modify their environment will find this book fascinating. -- James N. Galloway, Professor and Chair, Environmental Sciences Department, University of Virginia Vaclav Smil has written a fascinating review of Fritz Haber and Carl bosch's contribution to the world's food production through their discovery of the ammonium synthesis process. We hope that this book will stimulate efforts to make best use of the derived nitrogen fertilizers. -- Luc M. Maene, Director General, International Fertilizer Industry Association What is the most important technological innovation of the 20th century--telecommunications, nuclear energy, computers, space flight, or molecular transformation of the genetic code? Vaclav Smil makes the case instead for the Haber-Bosch process, which allows industrial synthesis of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and provides the foundation of our human food supply. his detailed story of the scientific trail that led to development of this process and its global impact is both enjoyable to read and an important contribution to the history of modern science and technology. -- Kenneth G. Cassman, Professor and Head, Department of Agronomy, University of Nebraska Vaclav Smil has built a road between the bleak, windswept fields of the catastrohists on one side and the sunny, bountiful fields of the cornucopians on the other. The road offers no easy passage. But followed with intelligence and persistence it has high promise of taking us to a future in which all people everywhere have the food they need for healthy, productive lives. Smil has performed a valuable public service. -- Pierre Crosson, Senior Fellow and Resident Consultant, Resources for the Future
Vaclav Smil is the author of more than thirty books on energy, the environment, food, and the history of technical advances, including Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature, published by the MIT Press. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.