Niagara Falls Power

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is famous as a symbolic wonder which people from all over the world travel to see… this tremendous waterfall never stopping and never silent. Try to even imagine this enormous flow of all water originated from the great lakes- (look at a map of the United States)-lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie all ceaselessly flowing over this these two rocky escarpments-the American Falls and the so called Canadian or Horseshoe Falls down through a raging gorge emptying into Lake Ontario. Because this marvelous world wonder is only looked at as a natural wonder very few of the millions of tourists realize the enormous wealth and technological development derived from harnessing of nature called hydroelectric power. It is at this point that my inspiration began and what a story in my growth was the mighty Niagara. First, I would like you to try to comprehend some statistics from my era 1937-1960, which will fascinate you. The total power generated was 1,500,000 horsepower, every minute, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week every day of the year. The value of this power @ 1 cent per kilowatt was at that time $ 300,000 per day or 110 million per year! That was a wealth that dwarfs the income brought in by millions of tourists. The establishment of electrochemistry and electrometallurgy is one of the most fascinating chapters in the industrial development of the United States and Canada and involved wonders of the world of science ad engineering ever known on the planet earth, all based on the spinning of enormous hydroelectric turbines some generating 100,000 HP each!

Just imagine these elements; Titanium, Zirconium, Hafnium, Vanadium Nickel, Aluminum, Sodium metal, Calcium metal, Silicon metal, Cerium metal, Chlorine, Fluorine, Hydrogen, and even Phosphorous, all produced in this region within 20 miles of each other. Then think of ferroalloys made at ultrahigh temperatures >2000o C Ferromanganese, nickel, tungsten, zirconium silicon, chromium. In addition one of the major product manufacture in a Dante’s Inferno was Calcium Carbide. Few of us have ever seen or heard an electric arc furnace in operation; to say the least it is awesome.

Niagara Falls
Each generator produces electricity for 300,000 people.

The power generated from an electric arc when two carbon electrodes are brought together and then one moved apart a distance of 1/8 of an inch, a high electrical resistance develops at the boundary and a new state of matter is formed called a “Plasma” which is associated with the discharge of electrons @ temperatures of 20,000 – 50,000o C! At these temperatures the air between the electrodes becomes conductive and the current will continue to flow even though the electrodes are not in contact with each other. To expand on the so-called Plasma state the gases in air Nitrogen and Oxygen begin to disassociate and loose some of their electrons forming positive ions (electrically charged atoms).

The intense heat developed in the electric arc furnace is utilized for melting metals, and metallic oxides. For conductors such as metals an arc Is struck between the metal and the carbon electrode, For non-metals such as ceramic oxides two electrodes are necessary to strike and arc between them or in some cases the furnace is lined with carbon blocks and the arc struck with a single electrode and the carbon lining, widely used in phosphorous and calcium carbide processing.

This is then the basis for electrometallurgy and the development of fused ceramic abrasives everything from silicon carbide (Carborundum) to optical fused quartz, and white phosphorous. The furnaces and the electrodes are no longer laboratory curiosities - they are enormous. Electrodes 3 feet in diameter, furnaces holding 150 tons of products reaching temperatures of 2000º C and operating at 5000 amperes, the noise, smoke, gases and high temperatures created rival an inferno and anyone standing near one of these monsters would be in awe, and this is what I witnessed during my development. The development of calcium carbide industry in Niagara was at its inception directly as result of the need for acetylene gas as a feedstock for the production of a variety of chlorinated solvents: perchloroethylene, ethylene dichloride, trichloroethylene and ethyl chloride all manufactured from acetylene gas. Goodrich ran a vinyl chloride plant there as well. Vinyl chloride was manufactured by the dehydrohalogenation of ethylene dichloride with caustic soda.

Niagara Falls Electrometallurgical/ Electrochemical Technology

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

This is a list of some of the companies that operated in the Niagara region.

  • Union Carbide Chemicals Niacet Division
  • Union Carbide Electrometallurgical Division
  • Union Carbide Linde Division (Uranium Tetrafluoride for Atomic Bomb Developments WWII)
  • Dupont Electrochemicals
  • Olin Mathieson
  • Carborundum
  • Carborundum Metals
  • Oldbury Electrochemical
  • Cerium Metals Corporation
  • International Nickel Corp
  • Hooker Electrochemicals (Part 1) – Atomic Bomb Development of Uranium Hexafluoride
  • Hooker Electrochemicals (Part 2) – Products and Processes
  • Vanadium Corporation of America
  • Stauffer
  • National Lead Titanium Alloy Division
  • American Cyanamide
  • Buffalo Electrochemical, (BECCO)