IAnN DdEuN GsI NtE ErRiI NaGl Chemistry
HARRISON E. HOWE,EDITOR
The Editor’s Point of View
’INTER APPROACHES. Few would wish their lives away, but there are sober-minded menwho sincerelywish the approaching winter were past. They realize that business has definitely improved at so many points that the long-awaited turn has probably been made, but they also realize that men and business are alike in that each requires much time for recovery after a prolonged, strengthsapping illness. Yery much of that lost strength cannot be regained before winter, scarcely enough to enable the great increase in employment which we all wish. The chemical industry in a large sense is purveyor to other industries, and general recovery must be realized to a large extent before great improvement can be expected in it. In any event winter is liable to be a harsh, unfriendly, and even cruel season for many, even under normal circumstances, not to mention times of depression. The fact that great efForts have been made privately and publicly through numerous organizations during previous months may make it somewhat more diacult to do what is needed in the immediate future, but the situation must be met. We are concerned with the problem involved in aiding all those in distress, but we are naturally most interested in the men and women with whom we have most in common-the chemists. The problem has had the concerted thought of several groups and a great deal has already ‘been accomplished. We wish to be advised of the details of any and all successful undertakings, in order that these constructive data may be transmitted to other points where they can be used. Where local funds are being raised, it should be suggested that at least a portion of those coming from the chemical industry be made available especially to help unemployed chemists, providing them where possible with the type of work which they are trained to do. One of the most needful things is the direct help and advice of the leaders of chemical industry. These executives can do much to encourage and assist conimittees in industrial centers where they are gravely attacking a problem which is brand new to them.
There is a certain obligation to do this, for beneath the chemical industry is the foundation of the science itself, laid by the chemical fraternity. In the better times to come there will be keen competition to be met only with the help of chemists. The demand, the insistent demand as of yore, will make itself heard again. Chemists and more chemists will be wanted. These trained, experienced, and tried chemists now unemployed will be among the first to be wanted, but if in the interval we allow them to lose their morale, even their selfrespect, they may become unemployable. The investment made in them by the state and industry may be lost, in which case we shall all be poorer. The industrial leader sees to it that his easily replaceable plant is carefully kept in stand-by serviceable condition. Can he afford to see less done in the case of men, so often replaceable only with the greatest dificulty? The time immediately before us may be the most dificult of all-the darkness before the dawn. We must not fail in doing our part as circumstances and ability dictate. We should assist those who are devoting their time and efforts to this cause. It is inactivity and lack of effort that condemn one. *
H E CASE OF AMRIONIUM SLLFATE. There are few, if any, better examples of a compound buffeted by the complex currents of modern industry than ammonium sulfate. The material is of great importance to the fertilizer industry, but that fact only serves to increase the complications which face the manufacturer. True, it is a by-product and, if unprofitable, one might think it could go to wraste. But no-has not the public come to appreciate the substantial losses involved in treating coal in the old beehive ovens, and has not the country become nitrogen-conscious, thanks to the Muscle Shoals controversy? Furthermore, no matter how the books may be kept as to costs, whatever is realized from the sale of a by-product has a bearing on the cost of such principal products as gas, pig iron, or steel, and con-
INDUSTRIAL AND ENGINEERING
sequently is of indirect interest to ultimate consumers. Nor can the gas companies neglect ammonia and simply allow it to remain in the gas and be burned. This introduces corrosion difficulties, and besides, in many places city ordinances and regulations require the removal of ammonia. In several localities surplus gas from coke ovens is used for domestic supply, thereby reducing costs to householders and factories, and this gas must also be made ammonia-free. Ammonium sulfate has sustained some important reverses. Formerly the manufacturer could rely on 72 cents per ton of coal carbonized as an income from sulfate to be credited to operations. This was roughly equivalent to 6 cents per thousand cubic feet of all the gas made, or about $1.08 per ton of pig iron. Then came synthetic ammonia, which so reduced prices that one-third of the return was soon lost. The synthetic method makes possible anhydrous ammonia at a cost very little above that for aqua, which is produced by gas works as an alternative to sulfate. The present world overcapacity for producing fixed nitrogen is therefore a major and controlling factor in the whole price structure. Any reasonable regulation of production and distribution with its resulting stabilization of prices is just as important to ammonium sulfate as to Chilean nitrate or synthetic ammonia and its products. The latest trouble seems to lie in the duty-free status of ammonium sulfate. Regarded as a raw material from the standpoint of the fertilizer industry and of agriculture, it was deprived June 18, 1930, of the protection which had been intended to equalize costs of manufacture. Because of unrestricted importation our producers have been forced to lose another third of their former return per ton of coal from this byproduct. While sulfate is a raw material in the eyes of the agriculturalist, it is nevertheless a finished product from the standpoint of those who produce it. In effect, the operators of by-product coke ovens are required to conserve ammonia, but their return on the operation is determined by what European makers will accept for their surplus. If this entails a loss to the American producer, he can pocket it or pass it along to another group of consumers in higher prices for his principal products. In doing this, he runs the risk of increased difficulty of meeting competition. In such circumstances one thinks first of costs of production and the possibility of lowering them. A medium-sized plant carbonizing 1000 to 1200 tons of coal per day will have fixed charges on investment of 60 to 75 cents per ton of coal. Of this, about 10 per cent will be for equipment required for the recovery of ammonia. Since recovery as sulfate averages from 1.1 to 1.2 per cent of the total, this fixed charge becomes from $5.50 to $6 a ton of sulfate produced. One ton of 60' Baume acid is required per ton of sulfate, and this acid is quoted around $10 in tank cars
Vol. 24, No. 10
at works. We then have from $15.50 to $16 per ton of sulfate, without reckoning costs of operation, maintenance, overhead, and selling. Today our manufacturers are figuratively pinning a $5 bill on each ton of ammonium sulfate which they ship. It is well known that labor costs favor foreign producers. What of the sulfate radical? Abroad, gypsum and calcium anhydrite are in wide use. The reaction between the calcium sulfate in water suspension, ammonia, and carbon dioxide yields a solution of ammonium sulfate which mbst be concentrated and the compound crystallized. As a by-product, there is a salable precipitated calcium carbonate. Investigators are of the opinion that the somewhat lower cost possible in some places by this method is altogether insufficient to change materially the price position of sulfate in America. The result of the removal of t a r 8 protection is evident from these figures, which are for the first six months of each year: Export, tons Import, tons Price per unit of nitrogen (20 pounds)
1930 49,436 3,010
1931 54,484 33,911
1932 13,672 165,441
While it is true that all forms of fixed nitrogen have declined sharply in price as compared, say, with values in 1919, sulfate of ammonia has shown the greatest recession-to 21 per cent of the 1919 price as compared with calcium cyanamide, 29 per cent, and sodium nitrate, 39 per cent. In Sweden the question of dumping arose some time ago and the Swedish Bureau of Chemical Industry recommended an import duty, notwithstanding the fact that nitrogen fertilizers in general enter that country free of duty. In our own country the American Iron and Steel Institute more than a year ago alleged the dumping of European sulfate of ammonia. The question has been carefully investigated and was somewhat complicated by the depreciated currency situation in some foreign lands. In due course a report was made by the Bureau of Customs to Treasury Department officials and under date of August 16 fhdings of dumping against sulfate of ammonia from Germany, Belgium, and Poland were made public. It was held that the American industry was being injured and is likely to be injured by reason of the importation of this compound at less than its fair value. It is understood that dumping penalties are about to be assessed against certain importers. The question of whether or not sulfate is also being dumped by Holland and England is still under consideration. American producers of ammonium sulfate are well equipped. They employ research and may be expected to take full advantage of advances in technology. What they ask is a fair and reasonably stable price and protection for their labor and capital against dumping. Surely such an attitude is sound.