The Impact Of Le Chatelier's Principle In Ammonia Production

1796 words - 7 pages

Did you know that we would need about twice as much farmland to feed ourselves if we didn't use industrial fertilizers? In addition, half of the protein we consume is produced in crops (National Energy Education Development project, 2013) and this process is facilitated by nitrogen in the soil. The most common nitrogen compound for fertilizers is ammonia, produced in the Haber-Bosch process, which reacts nitrogen gas with hydrogen gas. While this industrial process of producing ammonia sustains a significant portion of the world's population, certain drawbacks must also be considered. The necessary evil of pollution and energy consumption in altering the conditions of chemical reactions is an issue that cannot be overlooked in this day and age where resources are getting increasingly scarce. Overall, the advantages that this innovation has brought to society far outweighs the negative environmental backlash.
The chemical bonds of ammonia are easier to break than in nitrogen molecules in the air, hence mass production of ammonia would be beneficial to plant growth and other trades involving nitrogen. However, the percentage yield of ammonia from the reaction of hydrogen and nitrogen at 1 atm is only 0.5%. Scientists have worked for centuries to shift the position of equilibrium in this reaction to increase the yield for industrial use (Zmaczynski, 2002), although this reaction was not successfully recreated in a laboratory environment until Haber discovered the conditions of sufficient rates of reaction. According to Le Chatelier's principle, any change to a reaction at equilibrium will be reversed through increasing the rate of the opposite reaction of any increase, hence shifting the position of equilibrium to the opposite side. The German scientists developed equipment that provided the high pressures and temperatures necessary for the chemical reactions to occur.
In the early years of the 20th century, other methods of nitrogen conversion from gas to compounds suitable for commercial purposes were employed. However, they did not reach the scale of the Haber process and were eventually replaced. The once-popular electric arc method for producing nitric oxide consumed 50-80 kWh of energy for every kilogram of nitric oxide, was not cost-effective enough for companies to make a profit and fell into disuse by the 1920s (Kiefer, 2001). Previously, other naturally occurring compounds containing nitrogen were exported for primarily creating explosives, but such resources such as quano (seagull manure) were easily depleted (May, 1999). Within a decade from Haber's discovery, the Haber process replaced other methods of nitrogen production. By 1929, about 43% of the worldwide 2.1 million tons of ammonia produced annually was through commercial applications of the Haber-Bosch process, the highest percentage among all methods of nitrogen production. After merely 16 years since the beginning of Haber's experiments with ammonia production, the consumption...

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