In the field of agriculture, fertilizers are used for improving the growth of plants. They contain essential nutrients for plants to make them grow healthy and free of disease. There are various types of fertilizers that are available in soluble, dry, and time-release forms. Ammonium nitrate is one such fertilizer that is used for providing adequate levels of nitrogen to certain plants. However, using and purchasing this chemical is getting difficult day by day, owing to its unethical use by antisocial entities.
Before finding out more about its advantages and disadvantages, let's get to know more about the ingredients and the formula this chemical. Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a chemical compound made of ammonia and nitrogen. It is a high-nitrogen fertilizer and is used as an oxidizing agent. When stored at normal room temperature, it is a white crystalline solid. Apart from being used as a common inorganic fertilizer, this chemical is also used in instant cold packs. It is also used as a hydrating salt in many endothermic processes. All in all, one can say that there are only two most important uses of ammonium nitrate - one is as a fertilizer, while the other is as a powerful explosive.
Ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3-) are the two forms in which plants can directly utilize nitrogen from the soil. Upon application of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, it easily dissociates into these two forms. When urea-based fertilizers are used, conversion of urea to ammonium occurs for a period of one day to one week, and some amount of nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere in the process. Thus, the immediate availability of nitrate ions makes ammonium nitrate preferable over urea-based fertilizers. Moreover, it is a stable fertilizer and is not subject to losses due to volatilization.
This chemical is widely used in mining and construction industries in the form of dry blasting agents. Being available in the crystalline dry forms, it is easy to handle and load. Moreover, it is safe and cheap as compared to other blasting agents.
Disadvantages and Misuse
As I said earlier, ammonium nitrate is a strong and explosive agent. In fact, it is one of the largest industrial explosive manufactured in the USA. It is used in the fields of quarrying and mining. This explosive is used by mixing it with several oxidizers and fuels that are actually non-explosive. It is one of the cheapest crop nourishing fertilizer types, and hence, it is easily available in the markets and agricultural stores as well. This is the reason why this chemical is easily available for antisocial entities, and they can use it the way they want and disturb the social strata. Ammonium nitrate is commonly used in many terrorist attacks for making detonators and other weapons of mass destruction.
Recent incidences of explosions in various countries like Germany, France, Belgium, USA, and Afghanistan are proofs of the ill effects of this chemical. It is the reason why governments of many countries have imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of ammonium nitrate. This might make a common farmers wonder where to buy this fertilizer for their farms. Well, they can easily purchase it in the regular stores from where they purchase seeds and other gardening tools. However, the amount that they want to buy is strictly monitored and noted by the store officials. One cannot do bulk purchase of ammonium nitrate unless they have a government-recognized license for doing so.
Apart from being used in suicide bombing by antisocial entities and terrorists, there is always the danger of ammonium nitrate decomposition. If it comes in contact with fire or high temperature, it can explode on its own. Although decomposition point of this chemical is 400°F, it can significantly lower when it comes in contact with organic and/or inorganic impurities. Hence, storing excessive amounts of this chemical can also cause problems regarding fire safety. Due to this and various other reasons, countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan have imposed ban on the manufacture, sale, and purchase of ammonium nitrate.
Ammonium nitrate is a good and quick source of nitrogen, as also an important ingredient to prepare efficient explosives. However, it has always been more prone to misuse and continues to be misused. Use of alternative fertilizers and a strict control over the availability of this powerful chemical is the way to limit such misuse and gain the maximum benefit.