How taking nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, which makes fertiliser, has been called the greatest invention of the 20th Century.
Saving lives with thin air - by taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser, the Haber-Bosch Process has been called the greatest invention of the 20th Century – and without it almost half the world’s population would not be alive today. Tim Harford tells the story of two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, figured out a way to use nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, which makes fertiliser. It was like alchemy; 'Brot aus Luft', as Germans put it, 'Bread from air'.
Haber and Bosch both received a Nobel prize for their invention. But Haber’s place in history is controversial – he is also considered the 'father of chemical warfare' for his years of work developing and weaponising chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War One.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Editors: Richard Knight and Richard Vadon
(Photo: A farmer sprays fertiliser. Credit: Remy Gabalda/Getty Images)
Sources and related links
Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, Daniel Charles, HarperCollins, 2005
Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, Vaclav Smil, MIT Press, 2004
The Alchemy of Air, Thomas Hager, Broadway Books, 2009