Electricity in the Chemical Industries
Most of the numerous and various applications of electricity are of such a nature that engineers and the reading public soon become familiar with them. This is not always the case with new developments in electro-chemistry, as chemical processes, when not secret, are as a rule, of less interest and of little importance to the public, says The Electrical World, except in so far as they result in the cheapening of a product. Many people, therefore, do not know the great and important progress which is being made in this field.
The great cheapening in the price of pure aluminum and of the aluminum alloys, for instance, is largely due to electric processes. Electric bleaching is much more common than is generally supposed. Electric proceses for extracting metals from ores are becoming of more importance every day, although comparatively little appears about them in current electrical literature.
A cable dispatch just received from England announces the discovery of a new electric process for obtaining caustic soda, chlorine, and other commercial chemicals from salt water. It is stated to have been pronounced a great success by prominent chemists and to cost about half as much as the present methods. The dispatch gives no other details, and until it is verified and accompanied by further particulars little need be said about it here. That such processes are possible, however, is well known to all educated electricians, as they may be performed in any laboratory.
It remained to bridge the gap, which often is very wide, between the laboratory experiment and a cheap and practical chemical process. If these difficulties have been overcome, as the dispatch leads one to believe, and if such a saving is really effected, the result will doubtless be not only of importance to the manufacturing chemist, but also to other industries in which such important chemicals as caustic soda and chlorine are used. The oceans are practically inexhaustible mines of these products, which are and always will be free to the public. This "raw material" can never be taxed by any artificial protective tariff, and monopolies and trusts for raising the price of this raw material are forever beyond the control of politicians and legislation.
A better source of supply could not be desired. It remains only for ingenuity and enterprise to develop processes for converting this free raw material into commercial products, which, if this report from England is reliable, appears to have been accomplished.