He was born in Cologne (Köln), Germany. He studied at the Technical College of Charlottenburg (today the Technical University of Berlin) and the University of Leipzig from 1892-1898. In 1899 he started to work at BASF. From 1908 until 1913 developed the Haber-Bosch process together with Fritz Haber. After World War I he was working on petrol and methanol synthesis via high pressure chemistry. In 1925 one of the founders of the IG-Farben and from 1935 chairman of the board of directors.
In 1931 he was awarded the Nobel prize for the introduction of high pressure chemistry.
He died in Heidelberg.