The Alkali Prize

www.nesta.org.uk/feature/guide-historical-challenge-prizes/the-alkali-prize/
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Year: 1775
Promoter: King Louis XVI of France
Prize: 2,400 Livres (Today's value $10,000)
Winner: Nicolas Leblanc (posthumously)

The French Academy of Sciences, under the patronage of the ill-fated King Louis XVI, established this award in the hope of finding an inexpensive process for producing sodium carbonate from a far cheaper substance.

Nicolas Leblanc, a trained surgeon, refined a radical process for transforming common salt, and was rewarded with a 15 year patent. Sadly, his innovation became a victim of history: whilst a plant was set up to enable the mass production of Leblanc’s method, he was paid no reward and the coming of the French Revolution led to his factory being confiscated by the revolutionary forces.

As Leblanc struggled, British chemists studied and adopted Leblanc’s process, opening their own processing plant in Newcastle. Leblanc’s business was only returned to him when he was too poor to continue running it. However, he was, finally, posthumously recognised for his notable contribution – the reward was eventually paid to his heirs.