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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

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
i Phenothiazine for Australia's sheep and cattle
ii Some innovative organic syntheses
iii Factory R&D

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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

After the dramatic launching of the explosives industry by Nobel's inventions, chemistry based industries developed only slowly in Australia until the mid 1920s; they were essentially non-research intensive manufactures, heavy chemicals such as sulphuric acid, fertilisers and paint batch processes. In the twenties crystallisation points of growth emerged.

One growth point was organic chemistry, still coal tar based. In 1925 John G. Peake, an Australian engineer, formed Timbrel Ltd.[74][75][76] to manufacture timber preservatives in Sydney, first at Sussex Lane and, from 1928, at Rhodes. Timbrol bought tar oils from Australian Gas Light Company, built distillation plant and produced aromatics, solvent naphtha, cresylic acid, pyridine, coal tar creosote and, from 1933 on, xanthates for BHP's flotation unit. In 1937 Timbrol acquired overseas know-how on nitrobenzene, aniline and oxidation of ammonia to nitric acid. Dr. Felix Kaufler from Germany was appointed research director and a number of research initiatives was taken. By 1942 the batch reduction of nitrobenzene to aniline and its derivatives, ethylaniline and dimethylaniline was implemented on full scale plants. ICI Australia converted these to 'carbamite', a stabiliser for 'cordite' and 'tetryl' respectively. Betanaphthol, synthetic phenol, dinitro-ortho-cresol and tetrachlorobenzoquinone (chloranil, a fungicide) were added to the range.

After the war selective herbicides 2,4-D (2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and hexachlorobenzene, an important seed fungicide for the wheat industry and pentachlorophenol, a fungicide and timber preservative, were synthesized.

In 1952 a caustic soda/chlorine plant was established. This led to additional chemicals such as ortho- and para-dichlorbenzene, DDT, and DDD and the formulation of agricultural pesticides. In 1957, Eveready Australia Ltd. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (USA) producing dry cell batteries) merged with Timbrol to form Union Carbide Australia Ltd. with a forty per cent Australian minority shareholding.

Another growth point was electrochemistry. In 1918 Mount Lyell erected an electrolysis plant for the manufacture of chlorine and caustic soda at Yarraville, Victoria. Although the plant was small, it was to become the nucleus for manufacture of new chemicals, just as Deer Park had become earlier for explosives.

Throughout the nineteenth century Australian products had enjoyed the natural protection of the cost of sea transport. With growing complexity of the chemistry, the nature of overseas industry changed after the First World War: plants grew in scale and operations were rationalised and internationalised.

The head of one of the five or six largest then still independent German chemical companies, Carl Duisberg of Bayer Farbenfabriken, set this process in motion. In 1904 he had visited the United States and had been deeply impressed with the degree of concentration of American industry. He wrote a discussion paper for his colleagues and competitors (Denkschrift, 1904), suggesting a fusion of all the German dyestuffs producers. It was another twelve years before Parbwerke Hoechst agreed to form the 'small I. G. Farben'; finally in 1924 all German majors -Bayer, Hoechst, BASF -and Casella, Agfa and Kalle Chemie formed the largest chemical combine in the world, the I. G. Farben (dyestuffs cartell).[77] It was a concentration of resources which was large by American standards and overpowering by the standards of any one chemical company in the UK I. G. Farben soon became one of the major exporters of chemicals to Australia. Not only was this a massive concentration in capital and production capacity, but also -even more important -in the generation of new products. I. G. Farben systematised industrial research. By 1927 they employed some 1000 research chemists and spent úS7.5 million on R&D, compared with ICI UK's úS350,000 in 1928.[78] ICI saw the threat and rapidly expanded R&D to 615 researchers by 1938. It was the beginning of the intensification of research which culminated in the 1970s with some 14,000 research staff employed in ICI enterprises worldwide and which made technological innovation more and more a domain of large organisations. In 1927 Sir Alfred Mond spelt this out: ' . . . the trend of all modern industry is towards greater units, greater coordination for the more effective use of resources'.[79]

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australian Gas Light Company; Eveready Australia Ltd; Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company; Timbrol Ltd; Union Carbide Australia Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Kaufler, Dr Felix; Peake, John G.

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