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The Odda Factories 1906-1924

Norway saw a rapid industrial development in the years from 1896 to 1920, and Odda played a central role in this adventure. The Odda factories delivered industrial products, made with new electrochemical processes, to international markets.

The abundant power provided by the Tysso waterfalls, an ice-free harbour and available land explains the choice of location. Raw materials were provided by quarries in Western Norway (limestone), in Wales and on the eastern coast of England.

 

Oddafabrikkene: Cyanamidefabrikken og karbidfabrikken 1906-08 The two Odda factories; cyanamide and carbide. Photo: Kraftmuseet archives

 

 

In 1906 Alby United Carbide Factories and the North Western Cyanamide Company began planning and building plants in Odda. The former was to produce calcium carbide, the latter calcium cyanamide. Calcium carbide is one of the ingredients needed to make calcium cyanamide, and to supply the world’s biggest cyanamide factory it was necessary to build an equally large carbide factory. Everything had to be built from scratch: harbour, railway, cableway, workshops, limestone kilns, smelting ovens, warehouses and dwellings. The works were funded by British capital. The necessary expertise was provided by the director, the Swedish engineer Albert Petersson (1871-1914) who held a PhD from the University of Zürich. Petersson had worked at pioneering plants on the continent, had important connections in Europe and he had built the Alby carbide factory in Sweden in the years from 1898 to 1906. He was the inventor of the Alby kiln, or the “Swedish kiln”. Petersson built Odda as an industrial development centre in Western Norway, at the same time founding a modern town, whose centre unfortunately came to be covered by the smoke from the smelting kilns.

 

Albert Petersson            Frans W. Bruce

THE DIRECTORS: Albert Petersson, director of the Odda factories and later director of the Carbide factory. Frans W. Bruce, director of the Cyanamide factory. Director of the Odda factories after Peterssons death.

 

 

Dr. Albert Petersson had planned a plant capable of producing 32,000 tonnes calcium carbide per year. The first 12 single phase kilns, each of 1.4 MVA, were designed by Petersson himself, and were very efficient for the period. A continuous smelting process, where raw materials were thrown in above and liquid carbide poured off below, assured profitable operation and high quality. The factories were expanded substantially between 1912 and 1914. At that time the carbide plant in Odda was the world’s largest. The Odda factories also produced calcium cyanamide, a chemical fertilizer which until after World War I represented the chief alternative to the nitrate fertilizer produced with the electrical arc method (the Birkeland-Eyde-metoden) at Norsk Hydro. Calcium cyanamide also served as raw material in chemical compositions, for instance in the explosives industry. 

 

When World War I broke out in 1914 the Odda factories faced economic difficulties. While travelling to London in order to negotiate the situation Albert Petersson disappeared without a trace from the steamboat going from Odda to Bergen. Odda was in grief. Petersson is considered the founder of the industrial Odda. There is a memorial dedicated to him near the bridge at Vasstun.

Engineer Frans Wilhelm Bruce, who had worked under Dr. Petersson since 1903 as general manager and head of constructions, took over as director. Bruce was to remain part of the management of the Odda factories and Odda smelting plant AS for 50 years.

 

In 1921 the Odda factories went bankrupt. An international postwar depression with falling production and prices, combined with restrictive monetary politics made survival difficult for many business sectors. People in Odda faced a period of hardship which was to last several years. Tourism had ceased to be a source of income, and the inhabitants of Odda had to recognize that the city depended on the smoke-producing factory.

 

 

 

Carbide and cyanamide production at the Odda factories
The main raw materials required to make carbide is limestone, coke and anthracite. Limestone is fired in a high capacity kiln, and is then melted together with the coal materials in closed carbide kilns. The carbide is heated until it is a liquid, white-hot incandescent mass which has to reach 2100 °C before it can be poured into containers and cooled. The blocks of carbide are then crushed, and some of the product is packaged for sale. Calcium carbide is used to make calcium cyanamide, a product that was discovered and adapted to industrial production by the German chemists Adolph Frank and Nikodem Caro in 1899. Calcium cyanamide is produced in Frank-Caro kilns, in which the finely ground carbide reacts with nitrogen at around 1050 °C. Finished cyanamid may be used to produce dicyandiamide. This is done by combining calcium cyanamide, water and carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide CO² was obtained from the gas emitted by the limestone kilns. Carbide reacts with water to form acetylene gas. Acetylene gas was first used for illumination.

 

ANECDOTE: People flocked to Odda from near and afar. People from all nationalities and layers of society were mixed together. Drunkards and streetwalkers, card-tricksters and travelling salesmen came to town, and everyone did good business

Writer Harry Langhelle

Arbeiderbladet

 

Odda real forslag til etterbruk Illustration showing a possible reuse of the carbide-plant. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kraftmuseet

Norwegian Museum of Hydropower and Industry


Naustbakken 7, 5770 Tyssedal
Phone: +47 53 65 00 50
post@kraftmuseet.no