Werner Schwarze, Chemist

The "Father" of Methionine

Degussa

* 1913, Marl-Hüls

† 2007, Frankfurt/Main

Werner Schwarze was an important chemist and researcher at Degussa AG. His major achievements included the development of D,L-methionine (today one of the most important products in the portfolio of Evonik Industries), the herbicide Bladex and MDT (methylmercapto-dichlorotriazine).

Even during his school years, Schwarze showed great interest in natural sciences and medicine. He enrolled in the Medical Faculty at the Georg-August University in Göttingen, but after four semesters decided to change to chemistry, in which he obtained his doctorate in 1938 under the guidance of Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Otto Wieland in Munich. The war delayed the start of Schwarze’s career. He signed a contract with the former Degussa in November 1940, but was able to work continuously only in organic research, from 1943 investigating essential amino acids.

Due to the poor nutritional situation in post-war Germany, the synthesis and application of amino acids was accorded particular interest. Methionine was intended to alleviate hunger edema, which afflicted many people as a result of chronic protein deficiency. Together with the Degussa chemists Hermann Schulz and Hans Wagner, Werner Schwarze searched for a technically realizable method to synthesize these amino acids. By 1948 they had found an efficient process. Another area was also soon found for the application; a few years later, findings from studies in the USA prompted the use of methionine as the preferred protein component in animal feed, giving rise to one of the most successful areas of operation ever seen at the company. Other syntheses of amino acids and associated compounds followed. Evonik Industries is the only company that produces all three of the key amino acids in animal nutrition - D,L-methionine, L-lysine and L-threonine.

Another area on which Degussa focused at that time was research into and production of triazine cyanuric chloride, which was initially used as an optical brightener and reactive dye. An agreement with the main competitor on joint patent utilization made it possible for Degussa to produce the substance itself. When a crop protection agent based on cyanuric chloride was patented in the USA at the beginning of the 1950s, Werner Schwarze also began research in this area. Research contracts with the English company Shell were the driving force behind the work. In 1966 these efforts yielded a triazine that had been developed in Werner Schwarze’s laboratory and which proved to be a highly effective herbicide with a wide spectrum of application on maize and cereal crops. It was patented in 63 countries and under the name of Bladex® the product became Shell’s most successful herbicide - manufactured by Degussa.

Research at Shell’s Swiss competitor Geigy had yielded another substance class of herbicidal derivatives from cyanuric chloride, methylmercaptodiaminotriazines (Tryatryne). At the end of the 1960s, Werner Schwarze discovered an elegant manufacturing process for their key intermediate product, methylmercaptodichlorotriazine (MDT), which made Degussa the main supplier of MDT and cyanuric chloride in Europe.

In 1978, Werner Schwarze officially retired, but continued to devote himself to the synthesis of pesticides in the Degussa laboratory until 1985. In September 1997 “50 years of amino acids for animal feed” was celebrated at Degussa in Antwerp. Similarly, in the research center in Hanau-Wolfgang near Frankfurt, the company honored its researcher by creating the Werner Schwarze scholarship for the promotion of amino acid research. It has been awarded annually to researchers down to the present day.

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