At a recent meeting of the Manchester section of the Society of Chemical Industry, Mr. Ivan Levinstein described the history and progress of the manufacture of alizarine, from which are produced fast red, purple, brown, and black dyes. He said alizarine was, until very recently, made only from the root of the madder plant, of which the yearly crop was 70,000 tons, and represented an annual value of £3,150,000, of which the United Kingdom consumed 23,000 tons, representing a value of nearly £1,000,000.
Madder is now no longer grown for this purpose. The German chemists found that alizarine produced from madder in undergoing certain treatment gave a substance identical with anthracine, one of the constituents of coal tar, and in 1869 the same chemists announced to the world that they had accomplished the synthesis of alizarine from anthracine. The effect of this discovery was to throw madder out of cultivation.
Mr. Perkin, an English chemist, and Messrs. Graebe and Liebermann, German chemists, almost simultaneously applied for patents in 1869, in England, and as their methods were nearly identical they arranged priorities by the exchanging of licenses. The German license became the property of the Badische Aniline Company, and the English license became the property of the predecessors of the North British Alizarine Company. These patents expire in about two months, and the lecturer explained that an attempt made by the German manufacturers to further monopolize this industry (even after the expiry of the patent) proved abortive. He also stated that alizarine, 20 per cent. quality, is sold to-day at 2s 6d. per lb., but that if the price were reduced by one-half there will still be a handsome profit to makers, and that the United Kingdom is the largest consumer, absorbing one-third of the entire production, and that England possesses advantages over all other countries for manufacturing alizarine--first, by having a splendid supply of the raw material, anthracine; secondly, cheaper caustic soda in England than in Germany by fully £4 per ton; thirdly, cheaper fuel; fourthly, large consumption at our own doors; and, fifthly, special facilities for exporting.
The advantages derived from the development of the alizarine manufacture here, it was stated, will benefit other collateral industries, such as manufacture of soda, of ordinary sulphuric acid, bichromatic, and chlorate of potash, articles used in this manufacture. The lecturer considered that the difficulties attending the manufacture of alizarine were now overcome, and with sufficient capital and competent chemists English manufacturers must be successful.
He then proceeded to explain the source from which nearly all the artificial coloring matters are derived, viz., gas tar; showing the principal products of this wonderful, complex mixture, of which one is anthracine. Alizarine manufacturers originally found scarcity of anthracine; at present the supply is in excess of the demand, and the price during the last 18 months has fallen from 3s. 6d. to 1s. per unit, and the probabilities are that the supply will increase. The quantity of gas tar now obtained the lecturer estimated at 500,000 tons per annum, and the coal carbonized for gas making, 10,000,000 tons. This quantity of tar suffices to produce 9,000 tons of 20 per cent. alizarine.
The lecturer then reviewed, in case of an increased demand for anthracine, the probable new sources of obtaining increased supplies of coal tar: (1) The destructive distillation of petroleum; (2) coke ovens and blast furnaces; (8) the carbonization of coal for general manufacturing purposes, using the coal and gas as fuel, and giving tar, benzine, and ammonia as residues; and (4) distillation of coal with the object of obtaining the principal products, tar and benzine, and as the residual product, gas. This part of the lecture was important to dyers and printers, the lecturer showing also, in a very interesting way, in what manner manufacturers may very considerably economize their consumption of coal.
The lecturer explained that while from one ton of coal there was obtained on an average about 17 oz. of benzine, by the new method about thirty times that amount can be got from the same quantity of coal. He also considered in great detail the different processes of the carbonization of coal, and of increasing the production of the different important residual products of gas tar, and also the best method of extracting the benzine. He showed samples of benzine which he produced from gas obtained at the Rochdale Road Gasworks, and, further, nitro-benzine, aniline, and coloring matters, which he had made from this gas benzine.
The lecturer also discussed the effect of the probable increased production of tar, ammonia, benzine, etc., as affecting gas companies, and said it was anticipated they either would raise the price of gas or change the present system of manufacture, which he considered probable. The enormous increase in the production of ammonia, of which the larger portion at present, as sulphate of ammonia, was used as a fertilizer, would no doubt considerably reduce its value. It might even replace soda for many purposes, and thus react on our alizarine industry.
He then proceeded to consider the manufacture of alizarine purpurine, and divided its manufacture into four stages: 1, the purification of crude anthracine; 2, the conversion of the purified anthracine into anthraquinone; and 3, the production of sulpho acid of anthraquinone and the conversion of this sulpho-acid into alizarine and purpurine. This part of the lecture comprised a detailed explanation of the various kinds of apparatus required, to be used which were beautifully got up, complete working models having been prepared for the occasion. The lecturer was of opinion that large consumers would be benefited if makers would offer for sale only three distinct coloring matters--iso or anthrapurpurine, and flavo-purpurine, leaving it to the dyers and printers to produce for themselves the intermediate shades by mixing the three colors; and he showed that by reason of the fastness of the shades produced by these coloring agents varying considerably, the blue shade (alizarine) being much faster then the orange shade (flavo-purpurine), consumers were in many instances losers by using mixtures of alizarine and flavo-purpurine.
In the course of the lecture many interesting specimens of various products were produced and dilated upon, the lecturer fully describing the process of purifying the crude anthracine and of the conversion of the purified anthracine into anthraquinone.