German chemist Friedrich Bergius was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951. He won this award in recognition for his invention and development of chemical high-pressure methods.
Bergius was born in Breslau, Silesia, formerly a part of Central Europe (now in Poland with parts spreading into Germany and the Czech Republic.) He came from a family that was steeped in science. His family was resplendent with theologians, civil servants, army officers and business men. His father owned a chemical factory.
The young Bergius was quite interested in his father’s factory even while he was just a school going child. Under his father’s careful guidance Bergius learnt various chemistry methods, becoming acquainted with chemicotechnical processes. Just before he was due to join University, Bergius’s father sent his son to Ruhr to study the chemistry behind the working of a large metallurgical plant. It is because of this exhaustive exposure at an early age, which gave Bergius a keen insight into chemical processes.
Bergius studied at Breslau University where he studied chemistry under Ladenburg, Abegg and Herz. He continued his studies at the University of Leipzig, where he formulated his thesis on absolute sulphuric acid as a solvent. It is the exposure to laboratory environment that fuelled Bergius’s zeal for research in the field of Chemistry. He went on to study two terms at Nernst's Institute in Berlin followed by studying under Haber in Karlsruhe.
Bergius came from a family resplendent with theologians, civil servants, army officers and businessmen.
Bergius’s early research involved dissociation of calcium peroxide. He developed a practical laboratory method to do so at pressures up to 300 atmospheres. To do this he had to start his own private laboratory as the equipment that he had access to at Technische Hochschule were insufficient. One of the most notable discoveries of the research was the hydrogenating effect of hydrogen on coal and heavy oils under high pressure.
During his research the scale of equipment needed to conduct posed a setback. The research required a small industrial scale sized laboratory. For this he tied up with the firm Th. Goldschmidt A.G. and shifted his laboratory to Essen. This was followed by a larger industrial plant at Rheinau near Mannheim. But even this wasn’t enough. Hydrogenation needed the combined efforts of various firms working together. Bergius approached a variety of firms after the Second World War for this.
The entire enterprise was very expensive and risky for Bergius. In 1927 he finally concluded his research proving its practical possibilities in a large scale. Having concluded this research, Bergius turned to discovering a process of obtaining sugar from the cellulose in wood. It took him fifteen years of research to achieve this. In 1931 Friedrich Bergius was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Carl Bosch.