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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry
i Beginnings 1865-1919
ii Fertilisers
iii Raw materials from gasworks and coke ovens
iv The beginnings of industrial chemical research - in the sugar industry
v Explosives

III Pharmaceuticals

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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Raw materials from gasworks and coke ovens

A precursor of the chemical industry which was introduced very early and involved considerable sophistication in chemical engineering was the gas and coke industry. Gasworks were established in Sydney in 1841,[16] in Melbourne in 1856 and in Ballarat in 1858, the first Victorian inland town to which coal had to be transported by bullock cart. Indeed, Ballarat very nearly beat Melbourne to the date, in 1857 or 1858, when Henry Courtis supplied Bath's Hotel in Ballarat with gas made from gum-leaves.[17] [18] Although gas and coke production is part of the history of energy and steelmaking, it merits recording here because it played a major part in the development of chemical engineering skills and the supply of raw materials for the chemical industry. Before the era of petrochemicals gasworks provided ammonia, aromatics (benzene, toluene, naphthalene, phenol) and pyridine to Timbrol and ICI Australia Ltd,[19] for further processing. The story of gumleaf production is quaint testimony to the spirit of improvisation and the wish to use local material. Not surprisingly it did not survive technical analysis: 'When the quantity and quality of the gas made were accurately determined ... it was far inferior ... Considering that the cost of the gumleaves would be at least half the price of coal, even at Ballarat, it is not advisable to use them ...'[20] Ammonia from gasworks assumed importance after Nicolle and Mort's development of refrigeration equipment based on ammonia. In 1896 the National Ammonia Company of the USA set up a 'waterless ammonia' factory at Clyde near Sydney, the Ammonia Company of Australia, and bought into the Victoria Ammonia Company Pty. Ltd. at Spotswood, Victoria. Eventually DuPont, America's premier chemical company, took over National Ammonia and its Australian subsidiaries, but when more and more ammonia was used for ammonium sulphate fertiliser, which DuPont did not market in Australia, DuPont sold out to ICI Australia, with which DuPont had close technical links in other areas.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Ammonia Company of Australia; I.C.I. Australia Ltd; Timbrol Ltd; Victoria Ammonia Company Pty Ltd, Spotswood

People in Bright Sparcs - Courtis, Henry; Mort, T. S.; Nicolle, Eugene Dominique

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© 1988 Print Edition page 637, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher