Millions of years of evaporation have left the Dead Sea more
salty and more dense than any other natural body of water in the world, with a
salt content over eight times that of the seas and oceans, attaining a
concentration of 330-340 grams of salt per liter of sea water.
In some parts, such as in the shallow southern basin, this rises
and reaches saturation and crystallization point. The quantity of dissolved
salts in the lake today is estimated at 44 billion tons, and in fact constitutes
the largest concentration of minerals in Israel.
The beginnings of the exploitation of these resources are firmly
linked with the name of Novmaisky, an engineer who in 1920 won a concession and
established the PPC at the northern end of the Dead Sea. Very early on,
Novmaisky – both a realist and a dreamer – concluded that an efficient
production process based on evaporation had to be located on a flat area
suitable for ponds as large as possible.
As the topography of the area in the north was not suitable for
this purpose, he began five years later to set up a plant at the southern end of
the Dead Sea; by the Second World War this was producing about 50% of
Britain’s potash requirements and about 80% of the requirements of the British
Dominions (excluding Canada).
The political upheavals of 1948 froze production until 1952,
when the Dead Sea Works was established. This, today, forms the basis of a
modern industrial complex which markets its products to over 65 countries on
Thus, the Dead Sea Works enterprise - founded on the chance
labor of adventurers and a handful of men obsessed by Noviensky’s
dream, living in subhuman conditions - became a giant complex, which in
its immediate area alone provides a living for thousands of families and has
become a major factor in the accelerated development of the northern Negev.
The need to feed the growing world population and the
development of innovative methods of agricultural production have, together,
created a mounting demand for agricultural fertilizers based on the three most
important elements for plants – potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen.
The potassium in the Dead Sea is found in the form of potassium
chloride salt. The quantity is estimated at 1.9 billion tons. It is produced at
the Dead Sea Works by a process based on selective sedimentation of the
non-required minerals in a system of evaporation ponds until the solutions of
the desired composition are finally obtained.
For the construction of the ponds a system of dams was built
which today encompasses the Israeli sector of the shallow southern basin of the
sea, which is now in fact a vast evaporation pond.
At present, the water of the Dead Sea is pumped from the deep
northern basin a distance of 400 meters and carried in a canal to the southern
basin, into the ponds, where – through natural evaporation – the water loses
50% of its initial volume and kitchen salt and calcium chloride crystallize out
into a second system of ponds. Here the carnallite, which is the raw material
for producing potash, crystallizes and sediments. Potash
is an impure form of potassium carbonate (K2CO3) mixed
with other potassium salts. Potash has been used since ancient times as a
fertilizer and in the manufacture of glass and soap.
This material is mechanically “harvested” from the bottom of
the pools and pumped through pipes to the potash plant. Here the carnallite
crystals are separated from the stock solution and washed in water to dissolve
the magnesium chloride in the solution.
In a further series of steps the potash is extracted and
transferred to bulk storage facilities, where it is shipped abroad in accordance
with the demands of the world market.
The huge quantities of salt, produced as a by-product of the
potash, supply local needs after further processing here and some is even
exported as both kitchen and industrial salt.
A two-stage cold crystallization process for manufacturing
potash invented in the research and development laboratories of the Dead Sea
Works led to the establishment of a new plant which lowered the costs of
Those who conceived the idea of exploiting the resources in and
around the Dead Sea were never satisfied with the production of potash and
phosphates as raw materials alone. The establishment of the Arad complex, now
comprising three separate plants, arose from the desire to develop compound
fertilizers, whose price on the world market is ten times higher than that of
the raw material. The brine of the Dead Sea Works waste products, which the
Japanese have used to fuel a motor cycle, and the phosphate-rich sediments to
the west of the Dead Sea, were combined in a process developed in the
laboratories of Israel Quarries to produce phosphoric acid of high quality. This
in turn can be used to produce compound fertilizers on a phosphorous base, whose
quality and price have aroused interest among fertilizer manufacturers around
Bromine (Br) is the only liquid nonmetallic element at room
temperature. It bonds easily with many elements.
The Dead Sea is the richest resource of bromine, used in
fumigants, flame-proofing agents, water purification compounds, dyes, in certain
medicines, sanitizers, photography, etc.
The solutions produced in the carnallite ponds in the Dead Sea,
contain bromine at a concentration 140 times higher than in normal seawater.
This provides the raw material for a large bromide plant that has branches
located around the world.
The bromine plant, together with a plant manufacturing bromine
compounds through advanced locally-developed technologies, have made Israel a
key player in the world market.
As against the 1.2% potash and the 0.5% bromine, the
concentration of magnesia in the Dead Sea reaches 13%, which means over 17
billion tons – a quantity sufficient for the world’s requirements of this
highly valuable metal for several centuries. This substance is the raw material
for several vital products in modern industry, including the auto and aviation
industries, on account of its strength and light weight.
The Dead Sea Works at present produces only a relatively small
amount of the full extent of the natural resources in and around the sea. It has
not yet begun to realize even a tiny fraction of the sea’s potential in
lithium and other elements it contains.
The Dead Sea Works holds the concessions for development of the
Dead Sea resources, the sea bottom, and the water to the west and south. In
fact, any activity along the shore of the southern basin and south of it is
subject to the agreement of the company and is conditional upon non-interference
and non-competition with its own operations.
However, these areas contain tourist spots, agricultural
settlements, roads, nature reserves and parks with
unique flora and
fauna, and there is little
doubt that in practical terms the industry is obliged to consider their needs,
which sometimes clash with its own development requirements.
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