Definition

Ammonium nitrate,  (NH4NO3), a salt of ammonia and nitric acid, used widely in fertilizers and explosives. The commercial grade contains about 33.5 percent nitrogen, all of which is in forms utilizable by plants; it is the most common nitrogenous component of artificial fertilizers. Ammonium nitrate also is employed to modify the detonation rate of other explosives, such as nitroglycerin in the so-called ammonia dynamites, or as an oxidizing agent in the ammonals, which are mixtures of ammonium nitrate and powdered aluminum.

Ammonium nitrate is a colourless, crystalline substance (melting point 169.6° C [337.3° F]). It is highly soluble in water; heating of the water solution decomposes the salt to nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Because solid ammonium nitrate can undergo explosive decomposition when heated in a confined space, government regulations have been imposed on its shipment and storage.

 

Ammonium Nitrate and fertilizers

Ammonium Nitrate is generally used as a fertilizer. It is actually sold in the form of pellets that are coated with clay. The reason why it is very popular in agriculture is because of the high nitrogen amount in this compound. Nitrogen is a very important plant nutrient that assists in the growth and metabolic processes that the plant undergoes. Agriculturists love using ammonium nitrate since it is a cheap alternative to expensive fertilizers. It can also yield rapid growth and may increase the fruit production capacity of a plant. It may also affect the quality of green leafy vegetables since the nitrogen which is used by the plants is actually very helpful in the process of photosynthesis. Another famous use of ammonium nitrate is as an additive in explosives. Ammonium nitrate is sensitive to heat and any application of this external factor can lead to explosion. It is a strong oxidizing agent. This means that it can actually remove certain electrons from other reactants when subjected to a redox chemical reaction. This is the reason why ammonium nitrates are paired and added in combustibles like TNT and others.

Ammonium Nitrate and explosives

Aside from that, ammonium nitrate is also the main component of an explosive called ANFO which stands for Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil. It is an explosive mixture which is used widely in mining. ANFO is composed of 94 percent ammonium nitrate and 6 percent fuel oil. The ammonium nitrate will serve as the oxidizing agent for the fuel. Another interesting fact about this compound is that it is actually hygroscopic. A hygroscopic substance is something that can easily collect water molecules from the environment where it is placed. Because of this reason, ammonium nitrates should not be stored in humid areas since water can easily affect the compound’s explosive function. Ammonium nitrates are now regulated by the government since it is already used to create fertilizer bombs. These are improvised explosive devices that other people use in terrorism. Ammonium nitrate can be very helpful in agriculture but correct storage and handling should always be observed.

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