Solvay, Ernest

Solvay, Ernest
SUBJECT AREA: Chemical technology
b. 16 April 1838 Rebcq, near Brussels, Belgium
d. 26 May 1922 Brussels, Belgium
Belgian manufacturer, first successfully to produce soda by the ammonia-soda process.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century, soda had been manufactured by the Leblanc process. Important though it was, serious drawbacks had shown themselves early on. The worst was the noxious alkali waste left after the extraction of the soda, in such large quantities that two tons of waste were produced for one of soda. The first attempt to work out an alternative process was by the French scientist and engineer A.J. Fresnel, but it failed. The process consisted essentially of passing carbon dioxide into a solution of ammonia in brine (sodium chloride). The product, sodium bicarbonate, could easily be converted to soda by heating. For over half a century, practical difficulties, principally the volatility of the ammonia, dogged the process and a viable solution eluded successive chemists, including James Muspratt and William Deacon.
Finally, Ernest Solvay and his brother Alfred tackled the problem, and in 1861 they filed a Belgian patent for improvements, notably the introduction of a carbonating tower, which made the process continuous. The first works were set up at Couillet in 1863, but four further years of hard work were still needed to overcome teething troubles. Once the Solvay ammonia-soda process was working well, it made rapid strides. It was introduced into Britain in 1872 under licence to Ludwig Mond and four years later Solvay opened the large Dombaske works in France.
Solvay was a member of the Belgian Senate and a Minister of State. International institutes of physics, chemistry and sociology are named after him.
Further Reading
P.Heger and C.Lefebvre, 1919, La vie d'Ernest Solvay.
Obituary, 1922, Ind. Eng. Chem. : 1,156.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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  • Solvay, Ernest — ▪ Belgian chemist born , April 16, 1838, Rebecqu Rognon, near Brussels, Belg. died May 26, 1922, Brussels       Belgian industrial chemist, best known for his development of a commercially viable ammonia soda process for producing soda ash… …   Universalium

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