Farrington Daniels and the Wisconsin Process for Nitrogen Fixation

TitleFarrington Daniels and the Wisconsin Process for Nitrogen Fixation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsStranges, A. N.
Secondary TitleSocial Studies of Science

Beginning in 1939, Farrington Daniels and his associates at the University of Wisconsin tried to develop a thermal process for nitrogen fixation, using a regenerative pebble-bed furnace. They envisioned their high-temperature process of combining oxygen and nitrogen from the atmosphere as a cheaper, more practical alternative to the high-pressure Haber ammonia synthesis. Daniels succeeded in overcoming several engineering problems in furnace design, and by 1942 he had obtained small amounts of nitrogen dioxide gas for the production of fertilizers and explosives. During the World War II years, Chinese industrialists came to the University to work with Daniels. They intended to develop the thermal process in China for the production of fertilizers. After the war, the US Army and the Food Machinery Company constructed a 40-ton/day demonstration plant in Kansas, but because the process was uneconomical, the plant ceased operation in September 1954.