The Ammonia-Soda Process

In the early 19th century it was already recognised that bubbling carbon dioxide through a mixture of brine and ammonia would yield sodium bicarbonate which could be converted to soda ash by kiln heating. The reaction was investigated by several workers but the first to achieve this on an industrial scale was Ernest Solvay. In 1873 Brunner and Mond licensed the Ammonia Soda process from the Belgian Solvay company and established a works at Winnington, Northwich.

This was a cleaner and more efficient method of making soda from salt than the Leblanc process. Furthermore while the Leblanc process was based on a supply of white salt. The ammonia soda process used brine and thus saved the cost of evaporation. The other raw materials were coal, limestone and ammonia liquor from the gas industry.

Brunner and Mond had negotiated UK rights from Solvay with advantageous royalties which were not available to a competing firm which also established an ammonia soda works at Malkins Bank near Sandbach in 1873. The company failed to make a profit and in 1880 was taken over by Brunner and Mond to become their second works.

In spite of this consolidation of the salt industry and the salt-based chemical industry, some firms remained independent and new entrepreneurs were to enter the industry. New salt works were established at Northwich, Middlewich and Sandbach and there were a few attempts at breaking the Brunner Mond monopoly of the ammonia soda industry. Most of the latter failed and were absorbed by Brunner Mond but it was finally achieved by the United Alkali Company which erected a large and successful ammonia soda plant adjacent to its Fleetwood Salt works. This obtained brine from the Preesall Saltfield where the company was developing the Controlled Pumping technology using a Californian drilling rig obtained from the American oil industry.

Meanwhile in 1884 the Cheshire Alkali Company at Middlewich established a composite Ammonia-soda Leblanc works at Middlewich and in 1891, Bowman and Thompson established a similar Ammonia-SodaLeblanc alkali works at Lostock near Northwich. Both works were eventually taken over by Brunner Mond, the latter in 1910. While the Cheshire Alkali Works was dismantled, the Bowman Thompson works provided Brunner and Mond with its first bleaching powder and hydrochloric acid facilities and entry into the chlorine market. This was followed ten years later in 1919 by Brunner Mond’s takeover of the Castner Kellner Works at Weston Point and the Electrolytic Alkali Company at Middlewich.

In 1892 the Murgatroyd Ammonia-Soda and Salt Syndicate erected a large ammonia soda works at Middlewich based on a recently discovered supply of natural brine. This works was acquired by Brunner Mond and became their Middlewich Works which remained in operation until 1962. A chief backer of the Murgatroyd syndicate had been Ivan Levinstein of the Blackley Dyeworks at Manchester and he also masterminded the next independent ammonia soda venture at Plumley near Northwich. The Ammonia Soda Company (AMSCO) was established in 1908 but this was also taken over by Brunner and Mond and by 1919 had been closed down.

I t is of interest to note that a major part o the land which the Staveley Works bought in 1916 on which to establish the British Soda Works had belonged to Ivan Levinstein and was purchased from his son Herbert Levinstein.

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