Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nitrogen - Dynamite Nobel

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
We humans inhabiting planet Earth so rich in nitrogen want explosives for every day jobs like mining or road building. We also want powerful propellants as well as strong explosives for military use for attacking others or defending ourselves. In today's world some people with political or even religious background want explosives to make a point or two.

Elementary nitrogen is a plentiful element in nature that has powerful chemical bonding. This makes it ideal for releasing plenty of energy when release by different means - even by slow bacterial activity (composts are warm). A quick release of the energy in nitrogen bonding and you get a propellant or explosive.

This characteristic of nitrates explains the strange obsession of some people to buy plenty of common fertilizers even the person may not have any fields for farming.

However, the nitrogen bond is very strong and it took quite and then plenty of human genius before  humanity succeeded in releasing that hidden energy.

Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) had over 300 patents. Dynamite was by far the most profitable of these and made his fortune and established the financial success and fame of companies such as the historical Swedish iron factory Bofors,German Dynamit Nobel AG and Dutch multinational Akzo Nobel N.V.

All humanity benefits from the Nobel Prize established by the wealthy inventor who had discovered an practical and safe way to release the power of elementary nitrogen N2 originally made in the very big bangs of supernovas.

The key to his industrially significant invention is nitroglycerin which is an organic nitrate compound. Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero had first synthesized it in 1847 in the University of Torino and made black powder of it and seriously warned about how dangerous liquid it is.

An anonymous Wikipedia article tells us [read entire article]
Nobel found that when nitroglycerin was incorporated in an absorbent inert substance like kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) it became safer and more convenient to handle, and this mixture he patented in 1867 as 'dynamite'. Nobel demonstrated his explosive for the first time that year, at a quarry in Redhill, Surrey, England.

In order to help reestablish his name and improve the image of his business from the earlier controversies associated with the dangerous explosives, Nobel had also considered naming the highly powerful substance "Nobel's Safety Powder", but settled with Dynamite instead, referring to the Greek word for 'power'.

Nobel later on combined nitroglycerin with various nitrocellulose compounds, similar to collodion, but settled on a more efficient recipe combining another nitrate explosive, and obtained a transparent, jelly-like substance, which was a more powerful explosive than dynamite.

'Gelignite', or blasting gelatin, as it was named, was patented in 1876; and was followed by a host of similar combinations, modified by the addition of potassium nitrate and various other substances.

Gelignite was more stable, transportable and conveniently formed to fit into bored holes, like those used in drilling and mining, than the previously used compounds and was adopted as the standard technology for mining in the Age of Engineering bringing Nobel a great amount of financial success, though at a significant cost to his health.

An off-shoot of this research resulted in Nobel's invention of ballistite, the precursor of many modern smokeless powder explosives and still used as a rocket propellant.

Nitrogen in action
The stuff was badly needed when humanity got involved in the two so-far most destructive wars.
Large quantities of nitroglycerin were manufactured during World War I and World War II for use as military propellants and in military engineering work.

During World War I, HM Factory, Gretna, the largest propellant factory in the Great Britain, produced about 800 long tons (812 tonnes) of Cordite RDB per week. This amount took at least 336 tons of nitroglycerin per week (assuming no losses in production).

The Royal Navy had its own factory at Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath in Dorset, England. A large cordite factory was also built in Canada during World War I.

The Canadian Explosives Limited cordite factory at Nobel, Ontario, was designed to produce 1,500,000 lb (680 t) of cordite per month. This required about 286 tonnes of nitroglycerin per month.

Good business, eh... ?

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