Research highlight

A century of artificial nitrogen fertiliser

Nature Geoscience

September 29, 2008

As a result of the Haber?Bosch process for the synthesis of ammonia, billions of people have been fed, millions have died in armed conflict and a cascade of environmental changes has been set in motion, suggests a feature article published online in Nature Geoscience. Fritz Haber filed his patent for the process 100 years ago, on 13 October 1908, and received the 1918 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work.

Jan Willem Erisman and colleagues reflect on the influence that Haber’s invention has had on society over the past century, both the benefits and unintended consequences, such as the increase in water and air pollution, the perturbation of greenhouse-gas levels, and the loss of biodiversity that was to result from the colossal increase in ammonia production and use. They argue that today’s society is dependent on a nitrogen-based economy and discuss some of the challenges we are likely to face in the next 100 years.

doi: 10.1038/ngeo325

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