150th Birthday: Samuel Eyde

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  • Author: ChemViews
  • Published Date: 29 October 2016
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
thumbnail image: 150th Birthday: Samuel Eyde

Samuel Eyde was born on October 29, 1866, in Arendal, Norway. He studied engineering in Oslo, Norway, and Berlin, Germany. In his early career, Eyde planned new railway lines and bridges. From 1897 on, he led the company Gleim & Eyde with branches in Northern Germany, Norway, and Sweden, which built hydroelectric plants, among other things.


In 1905, Eyde founded the company Norsk hydro-elektrisk Kvælstofaktieselskab, today Norsk Hydro, together with the physicist Kristian Birkeland and the banker Marcus Wallenberg. The company used the plentiful hydroelectric power in Norway to drive the so-called Birkeland-Eyde process, which fixates atmospheric nitrogen to produce fertilizer. The process was one of the early ways to fixate nitrogen on an industrial scale. It was later replaced by the more energy-efficient Haber-Bosch process.


The Birkeland-Eyde process uses a powerful electric arc (developed by Birkeland), which is turned into a disc shape using strong magnetic fields. Air is blown through this disc, which has temperatures of over 3000 °C, causing atmospheric nitrogen to react with oxygen and form nitrogen oxide (NO):

N2 + O2 → 2 NO

The nitric oxide reacts with oxygen to NO2:

2 NO + O2 → 2 NO2

Nitrogen dioxide can then be dissolved in water to give nitric acid. Its salts, nitrates, are used in large amounts in fertilizers to improve crop yields.


Norsk Hydro later started to produce aluminum, magnesium, and petroleum. Today, it is one of the largest producers of aluminum and still owns and uses hydroelectric power plants in Norway.


Eyde resigned as Director-General of Norsk Hydro in 1917, when his interests turned towards politics. He was a Member of the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament, from 1918 to 1920, and served as Norwegian Ambassador in Poland from 1920 to 1923. The coastal town Eydehavn near Arendal is named after him. Samuel Eyde died on June 21, 1940.


Samuel Eyde is the answer to Guess the Chemist (58).


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