Foundation and the era of Franz Fischer (1912-1943)
The Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung is one of the oldest institutes of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and the oldest scientific research institute in the Ruhr region. It was founded in 1912 as a cooperation between the former Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (KWG), the Ruhr industry and the city of Mülheim.
The original research goals were to extract liquid fuels from coal and in particular investigate the direct conversion of the coal’s energy into electricity. For this reason, the electrochemist Franz Fischer (1877-1947) was appointed the first Director of the Institute, having previously been a full professor of chemistry at what was then the Technical University of Charlottenburg.
Shortly after the official opening of the Institute on 27 July 1914, the First World War broke out, which made work very difficult from the outset, especially since armament projects were now primarily in demand. After the end of the war, the onset of inflation and the French occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 had a negative impact on the Institute.
Despite the adverse circumstances during these years, Franz Fischer and his colleague Hans Tropsch developed the Fischer-Tropsch coal hydrogenation process which was named after them: patented in 1929, this was primarily used to obtain synthetic petrol. The method contin-ues to be used all over the world to this day.
Another important milestone of the Franz Fischer era was the transformation of the Institute into a legally independent foundation in 1939: one of the aims of doing this was to minimize the influence of the National Socialist state, and this was achieved to some extent.