Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,139 pages of information and 245,599 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

ICI Billingham Division

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1920 Brunner, Mond and Co succeeded in making ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen, first in a pilot plant at Winnington. By arrangement with the Government, Brunner Mond formed Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates Ltd. to build and operate a factory at Billingham to make ammonia, principally to provide a key feedstock for explosives but also to make ammonium sulphate fertiliser; the part-built plant was acquired from the Ministry of Munitions. [1] This later became the Billingham Division of ICI.

1926 at the end of the year, the company operating the Billingham factory, Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates Ltd, was taken into the new Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd as a subsidiary of Brunner Mond.

Post-WWI the main use of ammonia was in the manufacture of fertilizers which became the core of Billingham production, which also included sulphuric, nitric and phosphoric acids, methanol and carbon dioxide.

Billingham's basic process was the production of hydrogen which was then reacted to make saleable products, such as fertilisers and industrial nitrogen products, methanol and petrol.

1931 Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates was renamed ICI (Fertilizer and Synthetic Products) Ltd

1935 The coal hydrogenation plant was completed at Billingham; petrol production began mid-year.[2]

WWII The petrol plant at Billingham was run to produce aviation spirit from creosote; the ammonia made there was used for fertilisers and industrial products under the direction of the Ministry of Supply.

1944 ICI (Fertilizer and Synthetic Products) Ltd. was renamed the ICI Billingham Division

Other divisions of ICI built plants at Billingham for the manufacture of sodium, chlorine, Nylon and plastics. At one time Billingham was the largest chemical factory in the British Commonwealth and, at its peak, employed 16,000 people.

post-WWII ICI set up a new site further down the River Tees at Wilton, connected to the Billingham site by a tunnel under the river carrying pipelines; all the divisions of ICI were invited to build plants there - see Wilton Works. It was very successful, at one time employing a similar number of people to the peak employment at Billingham.

Whereas Billingham had been based on coal, both as a source of energy and as a major process feedstock, Wilton was based on petroleum chemicals as feedstock. By mid-century coal-based processes were uneconomic; the change first to naphtha and then to natural gas had a major effect on the Billingham site. The old plants, many of which dated from the founding of the site in the early 1920s, were demolished and replaced. The number of people employed fell dramatically with the introduction of large single-stream plants.

1957 the Billingham Division was split into two:

1958 ICI acquired the crop protection interests of Cooper, McDougall and Robertson and acquired Plant Protection Ltd

1963 Plants in the Division were at:[3]

  • Billingham
  • Heysham
  • Severnside
  • and plans for a new ammonia plant at Immingham

By 1975, with the availability of North Sea Gas at low cost on long-term contract, the fertilizer division enabled ICI to produce ammonium nitrate at well below market price. By 1975, ICI controlled over half of the British market.

1986 Became part of the new Chemicals and Polymers group[4]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 19200625, p 664
  2. The Times, Apr 17, 1936
  3. [1] General Chemicals Division News
  4. The Times, September 19, 1986
  • [2] ICI Archive in the North East