Ammonium Nitrate is a chemical compound with formula NH4NO3 is a colorless and odorless white rhombohedra crystals at room temperature produced due to the chemical reaction of ammonia and nitric acid, even on a commercial level. When heated above 32°C, the crystals changes to monoclinic crystals. The compound is soluble in water, alcohol and liquid ammonia. The compound is majorly used in fertilizers and explosives.
The first solid nitrogen (N) fertilizer to be produced on a large scale, the compound has been a common nitrogen source due to its content of both nitrate and ammonium. With a relatively high nutrient content, it is the most environmentally and economically viable N fertilizer for crops. As fertilizer, it is used as small clay-coated pellets. A major reason for its popularity as fertilizer is its high nitrogen content which is a vital plant nutrient facilitating the growth and metabolic processes of the plants.
Varied uses of Ammonium Nitrate
The biggest use of this compound is its widespread usage as a high-nitrogen, common inorganic fertilizer. Apart from it, this chemical is used in instant cold packs. For many endothermic chemical processes, the chemical is used as a hydrating salt.
Another widespread use of this compound is its use as explosives. Being a strong oxidizing agent, it can easily remove certain electrons from many reactants when subjected to a redox chemical reaction. This forms the basis of pairing and adding it combustibles like TNT and others. It is the main component of the explosive, Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO). Combination of 94 percent ammonium nitrate and 6 percent fuel oil, ANFO is an explosive mixture widely used in mining.
How is Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer used?
The fertilizer is mostly available as 33%nitrogen.hence its bag comes printed with 33-0-0.The fertilizer can be used either directly or as a vital component of any fertilizer component. It provides half nitrogen in the nitrate form and the other half as the ammonium form. The nitrate form is easily up taken by the plant through soil water readily absorbed by the roots. It is the preferred nitrogen fertilizer for pasture and hay fertilization because it is less susceptible to volatilization or air losses when sprinkled and left on soil. It provides a readily and instantly available nitrate source of plant food.
Industrial production of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer
Its production is quite simple. Ammonia gas and nitric acid readily reacts with each other to form a concentrate solution and considerable heat. The fertilizer prills are formed when drops of the concentrated ammonium nitrate solution (95 to 99 percent) fall from a tower and solidify. The low density prills which are more porous are mostly used for industrial or explosive use while the high density prills with less porosity are preferred as fertilizers. Granular ammonium nitrate is made by repeatedly spraying the concentrated solution onto small granules in a rotating drum.
Benefits and advantages
Ammonium nitrate is an extremely popular summer fertilizer owning to its intrinsic excellent agronomic properties. Some of its major advantages are –
- Being a water soluble compound, justifies its popularity and logicality to use it a fertilizer. This accelerates the absorption process and allows the roots to take it in with no issues.
- The first biggest advantage is its high nitrogen content available in two forms. The nitrate half easily gets dissolved in soil water and is readily absorbed by plants through the roots. This nitrogen is easily used by the plants instantly for its varied uses. The ammonium half attaches and sticks itself to the clay particles of the soil and releases nitrogen overtime, thus supplying plants with nitrogen source for more than adequate time. In urea based fertilizers, conversion of urea to ammonium may take time ranging from a day to one week along with some nitrogen being lost to the atmosphere. Ammonium nitrate eliminates the issue as well as arrests the nitrogen loss.
- The other big advantage is that it’s not so easily subject to volatilization. Being a stable fertilizer, it saves heavily on losses due to volatility.
- The fertilizer causes minimal alteration to the soil’s PH level thus assisting in retaining the quality of the soil.
- Another big asset is that the storage of the fertilizer is relatively easy. It can simply be stored in a dry, covered, cool and well-ventilated area.
- Along with its varied advantages, it is also a highly cost efficient and highly effective fertilizer.
Precautions when using this fertilizer
Owning to its easy availability and its advantageous usage in explosives, adequate precautions and safety measures need to be adhered to. It can be hazardous as well. Some of the important precautionary tips are –
- Inhalation of high concentrations of ammonium nitrate dust can be dangerous as it causes respiratory tract irritations. Some of its telling symptoms are sore throat, coughing, suffocation or shortness of breath. In abnormally high concentration intake, it can lead to headache with dizziness and vomiting, abdominal pain and cramps,bloody diarrhea with extreme weakness, tingling sensation throughout the body,heart and circulation irregularities, collapse, convulsions and even suffocation. Mixed with water, it forms a mild acid which can cause irritation to nose, eyes and skin. Hence while working with it, it’s best to cover entire body as well as the face with a face mask.
- Even though it is a non-flammable material, its strong oxidizing properties can catalyze many combustible substances like oils, wood, paper etc to ignite.
- Owning to its very easy and popular use as explosives, the compound poses great threat as being easily misused by anti-social elements. Hence each country has certain rules and regulations regarding its purchase. Hence they should be purchased only from government approved stores, following all necessary guides and guidelines to avoid any untoward accidents and incidents like every seller needs to be licensed and every buyer must submit his photo Id proof and other necessary documents at the time of purchase. The quantity of purchase is also regulated by certain rules.
Emergency response procedures
The fertilizer’s correct storage and handling rules should be adhered at all times. If by accident, any untoward incident takes place, the police, fire station and hospital’s assistance should be seeked immediately and all requisite first aid and preliminary treatment provided. Some of those steps that can be taken in an event of any spill or accidental discharge are –
- In case eye is affected, any lens should be removed immediately. Now, keeping the eyelids open, the eyes should be flushed with running water for 15 minutes or more till irritation subsides.
- If the skin is affected, it should be washed well with soap and water, dried and then covered with a good skin soothing antiseptic lotion.
- For minor inhalation, clothes should be loosened and the person taken to a clean and well ventilated area.
- For major inhalation, apart from above step, administering of oxygen or artificial respiration as the case may be should be executed.
Ultimately, each case should undergo a medical checkup for safe health.
Whenever dealing with the fertilizer, it is best to be completely aware of all rules and safety measures surrounding it so that only its beneficial effects are exploited.