Synthetic Petroleum from High-Pressure Coal Hydrogenation
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This paper examines the history of high-pressure coal hydrogenation from its beginning in pre-World War I Germany to its present state of development in the United States. It shows how Germany, a country almost entirely dependent on imported natural petroleum for its liquid fuel requirements, called on science and technology to make it independent of natural petroleum. Recognizing petroleum as the fuel of the future, her scientists took coal, a substance of which they had an abundance, and from it synthesized petroleum, a product of which Germany had none. Of the several processes used to convert coal into petroleum, high-pressure coal hydrogenation was the most highly developed. Its history falls into three broad periods: (1) the work of Friedrich Bergius, the inventor of high-pressure coal hydrogenation, in the period of 1910-1925; (2) the commercial development of Bergius's process by German industrialists in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and (3) the present state of coal hydrogenation in the United States. Before the rise of Germany's synthetic petroleum industry in the mid-thirties, a shortage of liquid fuel seriously threatened her economic and social well-being. If such a situation should repeat itself in the United States, a synthetic fuels program could contribute towards American self-sufficiency in energy.
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Chemistry and Modern Society