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(Washington Post)   Government scientists can't build a bomb that won't blow up   ( divider line
    More: Strange, government scientist, Sandia National Laboratories, two-lane road, crop yields, home runs  
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5552 clicks; posted to Main » on 19 Jun 2013 at 9:51 AM (4 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2013-06-19 10:46:50 AM  
2 votes:
Chemistry nerd time: the reaction  N2 + 3 H2 → 2 NH3  (Haber-Bosch synthesis of ammonia) has both saved and killed more people in history than basically anything else.  2% of the worlds *entire* energy supply goes into feeding this reaction.

Without it, the world is a very different place.  You can only naturally get large amounts of fixed nitrogen from sources like guano, which used to exist on a few islands covered in bird crap.  Mining it was a matter of critical national importance: one of the first naval battles in WW1 between Germany and Britain occurred off the coast of Argentina because the shipping of guano from some islands off of Chile was the only decent way to get enough fixed nitrogen for explosives.  Without Haber coming up with this process, there is no WW1- Germany wouldn't have been able to make ammunition.  WWII would have been completely impossible on the scale it was.

On the flip side, without synthetic fertilizer, you can't grow anywhere near enough food to feed 7 billion people.  I've read analyses that show if you converted every square inch of land to farmland and then used completely natural techniques, you could support roughly 4 billion people.  Something like half the nitrogen in your body today was fixed by this reaction: the other half comes from natural bacteria fixation.

/End chemistry nerd time
2013-06-19 10:00:04 AM  
2 votes:
One of the more closely guarded secrets.... Let us describe where it is
2013-06-19 10:49:18 AM  
1 vote:
Ammonium nitrate, which packs a fearsome punch, is used in more than 60 percent of the Taliban's bombs. It's also essential to farming; without it, thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis would starve.

Problem solved.....
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