Biography of Ludwig Mond

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Chemist and industrialist, Mond invented a process for recovering sulphur during the manufacture of alkali and also developed a producer gas known by his name. He was cofounder and director of Brunner-Mond (1872), which became the world’s largest producer of alkalies.

Another outstanding discovery of his was nickel carbonyl, a gas formed from carbon monoxide and metallic nickel. He developed one of the first hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells. Ludwig Mond was born in Kassel, Germany, and studied chemistry at Marburg under suporvision of Prof. Hermann Kolbe and then at Heidelberg under supervision of Prof. Robert Bunsen. In 1859, working in a small soda works near Kassel, he initiated the new process for the recovery of sulphur. This gained him an invitation from a Lancashire industrial chemist, and Mond moved to the UK in 1862.

In England Mond obtained a position in a chemical works at Widnes, where he elaborated the practical application of a method he had devised for recovering the sulphur lost as calcium sulphide in the black ash waste of the Leblanc alkali process. He became a naturalized British subject in 1867. In 1873 he entered into partnership with Sir John Tomlinson Brunner, whom he had met when he was at Widnes, and thus founded the great chemical manufacturing firm of Brunner, Mond & Co.

They began to make alkali by the ammonia-soda process, under licence from the Belgian chemist, Ernest Solvay, but at first the venture threatened to prove a failure. Gradually, however, the technical difficulties were overcome and success assured. The Brunner, Mond & Co eventually became the international giant, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). A son of Ludwig Mond, Alfred Mond, 1st Baron Melchett (1868-1930), continued as a director of the father’s companies but was more interested in politics, becoming a member of Lloyd George’s cabinet.

In 1879, Mond became interested in the production of ammonia. He began experiments in the economical utilization of fuel, and his efforts led him to the system of making producer-gas, known by his name. One outcome was the development of the Mond producer gas process, in which carbon monoxide and hydrogen are produced by alternately passing air and steam over heated coal or coke (and the hydrogen used to convert nitrogen into ammonia). By the early 1900s, Mond’s Dudley Port Plant in Staffordshire was using 3 million tonnes of coal each year to make producer gas (Mond gas).

In 1889, Mond and his assistant Carl Langer described their experiments with a hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell that attained 6 amps per square foot (measuring the surface area of the electrode) at 0.73 volts. Mond and Langer’s cell used electrodes of thin, perforated platinum.

They noted difficulties in using liquid electrolytes, saying “we have only succeeded by using an electrolyte in a quasi-solid form, viz., soaked up by a porous non-conducting material, in a similar way as has been done in the so-called dry piles and batteries.” An example given is an earthenware plate “impregnated by dilute sulfuric acid.” The term “fuel cell” was coined (or at least popularized) in 1889 by Ludwig Mond and Charles Langer, when they attempted to use air and coal gas to generate electricity.

Later, while attempting to utilize the gas for the production of electricity by means of a Grove gas battery, he noticed that the carbon monoxide contained in it combined with nickel. The resulting compound, nickel carbonyl, which was described to the Chemical Society in 1890, is both formed and decomposed within a very moderate range of temperature.

Lord Kelvin described nickel carbonyl molecules as “metals with wings”. Mond developed a valuable method known as the Mond process for extracting nickel from its ores by use of this carbonyl. In the process, carbon monoxide passing over the crushed and smelted ore containing nickel produces the volatile nickel carbonyl; this is decomposed to yield metallic nickel.

A liberal contributor to the purposes of scientific research, Mond founded in 1896 the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory in connexion with the Royal Institution. He donated for this laboratory costing £100,000.

On his death, which occurred in London on the 11th of December 1909, he bequeathed a large part of his collection of pictures to the nation. Mond was buried on the Saint Pancras Cemetery, East Finchley, London, England (see a picture of his burial at left).

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