Bergius, Friedrich Carl Rudolf

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b. 11 October 1884 Goldschmieden, near Breslau, Germany
d. 31 March Buenos Aires, Argentina
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German chemist who invented the coal-liquefaction process
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After studying chemistry in Breslau and Leipzig and assisting inter alia at the institute of Fritz Haber in Karlsruhe on the catalysis of ammonia under high pressure, in 1909 he went to Hannover to pursue his idea of turning coal into liquid hydrocarbon under high hydrogen pressure (200 atm) and high temperatures (470° C). As experiments with high pressure in chemical processes were still in their initial stages and the Technical University could not support him sufficiently, he set up a private laboratory to develop the methods and to construct the equipment himself. Four years later, in 1913, his process for producing liquid or organic compounds from coal was patented.
The economic aspects of this process were apparent as the demand for fuels and lubricants increased more rapidly than the production of oil, and Bergius's process became even more important after the outbreak of the First World War. The Th. Goldschmidt company of Essen contracted him and tried large-scale production near Mannheim in 1914, but production failed because of the lack of capital and experience to operate with high pressure on an industrial level. Both capital and experience were provided jointly by the BASF company, which produced ammonia at Merseburg, and IG Farben, which took over the Bergius process in 1925, the same year that the synthesis of hydrocarbon had been developed by Fischer-Tropsch. Two years later, at the Leuna works, almost 100,000 tonnes of oil were produced from coal; during the following years, several more hydrogenation plants were to follow, especially in the eastern parts of Germany as well as in the Ruhr area, while the government guaranteed the costs. The Bergius process was extremely important for the supply of fuels to Germany during the Second World War, with the monthly production rate in 1943–4 being more than 700,000 tonnes. However, the plants were mostly destroyed at. the end of the war and were later dismantled.
As a consequence of this success Bergius, who had gained an international reputation, went abroad to work as a consultant to several foreign governments. Experiments aiming to reduce the costs of production are still continued in some countries. By 1925, after he had solved all the principles of his process, he had turned to the production of dextrose by hydrolyzing wood with highly concentrated hydrochloric acid.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Nobel Prize 1931. Honorary doctorates, Heidelberg, Harvard and Hannover.
Bibliography
1907, "Über absolute Schwefelsäure als Lösungsmittel", unpublished thesis, Weida. 1913, Die Anwendung hoher Drucke bei chemischen Vorgängen und eine Nachbildung
des Entstehungsprozesses der Steinkohle, Halle. 1913, DRP no. 301, 231 (coal-liquefaction process).
1925, "Verflüssigung der Kohle", Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Ingenieure, 69:1313–20, 1359–62.
1933, "Chemische Reaktionen unter hohem Druck", Les Prix Nobel en 1931, Stockholm, pp. 1–37.
Further Reading
Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, 1985, Friedrich Bergius und die Kohleverflüssigung. Stationen einer Entwicklung, Bochum (gives a comprehensive and illustrated description of the man and the technology).
H.Beck, 1982, Friedrich Bergius, ein Erfinderschicksal, Munich: Deutsches Museum (a detailed biographical description).
W.Birkendfeld, 1964, Der synthetische Treibstoff 1933–1945. Ein Beitragzur nationalsozialistischen Wirtschafts-und Rüstungspolitik, Göttingen, Berlin and Frankfurt (describes the economic value of synthetic fuels for the Third Reich).
WK

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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