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.

Brunner Mond, one of the founding companies behind the formation of ICI

t15205Ludwig Mond (1839 – 1909) was a German-born chemist and industrialist who took British nationality. After attending schools in his home town, he studied chemistry at the University of Heidelberg. He then worked in factories in Germany and the Netherlands before coming to England to work at the factory of John Hutchinson & Co in Widnes in 1862. Here he formed a partnership with John Hutchinson. Shortly after starting work at Hutchinson’s he developed a method to recover sulphur used to manufacture soda. In 1872 Mond got in touch with the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay who was developing a better process to manufacture soda. The following year he went into partnership with John Brunner to work on bringing the process to commercial viability.
They established the business of Brunner Mond & Company. Within 20 years this business had become the largest producer of soda in the world.
John Tomlinson Brunner (1842 – 1919) was a British chemical industrialist at Hutchinson’s alkali works in Widnes, there he met Ludwig Mond, with whom he later formed the chemical company Brunner Mond & Co. Their initial capital was less than £20,000 (£1.6 million in 2016) most of which was borrowed. After its slow start, Brunner Mond & Company became the wealthiest British chemical company of the late 19th century. On its merger with three other British chemical companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926, it had a market capitalization of over £18 million (£940 million in 2016.
Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was formed by the 1926 merger of Great Britain’s four major chemical companies: Nobel Industries Ltd.; Brunner, Mond and Company Ltd.; United Alkali Company; and the British Dyestuffs Corporation.

Information courtesy of Bob Wilson.

Turbocharger Casing from Stockton Castings

t15154The picture shows two big turbochargers of the type used in large diesel truck engines, made by Holset Ltd in Huddersfield. In the early nineties I needed these for an experimental gas turbine, but working at much higher temperatures than usual. Super strength cast stainless steel would have to be used for the casings. We were told that the only company Holset trusted with “specials” of this type was Stockton Castings, in Ross Road, off Portrack Lane.

We visited the company, coming up from London, on behalf of our bit of British Gas R&D. We were greeted by the owner, Mr Wolverston , (I understand), a real gentlemen. He would have been around sixty at that time. He greeted us in his little office, upstairs from the foundry. I remember him being very smartly dressed in a green suit. He showed us round and it was clear that this casting, which was somewhat complex, and had to be made to tolerances of less than 0.5mm, would present no problems. One of our team came up a few weeks later to see the job being done and it was a no fuss affair.

Has anyone any pictures of the owner or the company or can say what jobs they normally did?

Photograph and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Distant view of the Transporter c1972

t15126This picture was taken from the North Ormesby area on a bank which forms part of the Eston Hills. The Transporter is in the centre of the picture. Off to the left the twin stacks of North Tees C power station can be seen. Haverton Hill can barely be discerned through the industrial haze. The white smoke is probably not pure steam, in some cases at least, and looks more lethal. The small group of chimneys on the right hand side is part of the South Durham Steelworks at Cargo Fleet.

During the 1950s and 60s most industry either continued with coal for fuel, or switched to fuel oil. Natural gas as beginning to make an impact and this led to a big clean up in the atmosphere. But in 1972 I would guess that at least half the houses on Teesside were still burning coal and the lower Tees Valley tended to hold the pollution from these even in the summer. It would be interesting to see a more modern picture, if this viewpoint is still a grassy bank.

Photograph and details courtesy of Fred Starr.