Riverside View of Head Wrightson Site, 1972

This was originally intended to be a an artistic view of Head Wrightson’s taken from the opposite side of the River, just about where the North Shore Branch of the Clarence Railway terminated. It is just about possible to make out, what I think are the boilers for an AGR nuclear plant lying in a row, ready to be floated down to the appropriated coastal location. I think other people have confirmed this.

Photograph and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Schematic of Products from ICI Billingham, 1939

The sketch shows an outline of what was being manufactured at ICI Billingham in 1939. But the same processes would have been used up to the 1950s. As originally set up, Billingham ‘synthesised’ ammonia using the Haber Bosch process, in which a key feature was the production of hydrogen and nitrogen from water and producer gas units. Billingham at this time was a glorified gasworks. The ammonia was mainly used for fertiliser as ammonium sulphate, by reacting it with sulphuric acid. The sulphuric acid came from the use of anhydrite, that had been fortuitously discovered to lie beneath the ICI site. But the ammonia could also be used to make nitric acid and urea. Drikold was solid carbon dioxide, or dry ice, which was a byproduct from making the hydrogen and nitrogen.

More complex fertilisers could be made by bringing in potash and phosphate rock. I would guess that these would need to be imported at the time. The chalk would have come by rail from the south. And as mentioned recently Billingham was making petrol from coal, but creosote was also being used as it greatly increased the output. Some of this probably came from the gasworks on site.

Every pupil at Richard Hind Boys in the 1950s will remember the chemistry master, Mr Dee, explaining how the Stocktonian name for ICI Billingham, the ‘Synthetic’, had come about from its use of the Haber Bosch process.

Image and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Coal to Petrol Plant at Billingham

One of the pictures shows the process route, which (a) enables one to understand what the pictures mean and (b) describes a technology that is now lost. The photograph shows one of the liquid phase “stalls” at Billingham. Liquid phase, in this case, means that the oil stayed as a liquid.

Each stall contained a set of three reactors in which hydrogen reacted with a coal oil slurry, whereby part of the coal formed more oil. The oil was separated off from the unreacted coal, and sent round to a distillation column. The lightest fraction from the distillation column was similar to petrol and mixed with the output from the second stage of the process,

In the second stage, the fraction of the oil, from the distillation column, with an intermediate boiling point was sent to the two vapour phase hydrogenation reactors. More petrol was made. It will be apparent that the whole process was very complex and can only be understood by working through the diagram.

Images and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

ICI Billingham Coal Hydrogenation Site

t15417This picture looks like it was taken from an aeroplane flying to the north of the site, probably in the late 1930s. I wonder how realistic this picture is of the Billingham site, although it does show in the far distance the Newport Bridge?
I understand that Ordnance Survey maps did not show the location of the plant, as it was built before WWII to produce high octane petrol for aircraft engines. It is also interesting that the actual coal hydrogenation units are not marked. Were they under the arch-like building at the lower centre of the picture?

Image and details courtesy of Fred Starr.