Friedrich Karl Rudolph Bergius

Friedrich Karl Rudolph Bergius

German research chemist who invented processes for converting coal into oil and wood into sugar. He shared a Nobel prize 1931 with Carl Bosch for his part in inventing and developing high-pressure industrial methods.

Bergius was born near Breslau, Silesia (now in Poland), the son of the owner of a chemical factory. He studied chemistry at the universities of Breslau and Leipzig, and did research at Karlsruhe Technische Hochschule with German chemist Fritz Haber, who introduced him to high-pressure reactions. Bergius worked in industry 1914-45, then left Germany and eventually settled in Argentina 1948, as a technical adviser to the government.
In 1912 Bergius worked out a pilot scheme for using high pressure, high temperature, and a catalyst to hydrogenate coal dust or heavy oil to produce paraffins (alkanes) such as petrol and kerosene. Yielding nearly 1 tonne of petrol from 4.5 tonnes of coal, the process became important to Germany during World War II as an alternative source of supply of petrol and aviation fuel. He also discovered a method of producing sugar and alcohol from simple substances made by breaking down the complex molecules in wood; he continued this work in Argentina, and found a way of making fermentable sugars and thus cattle food from wood.

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