Fertilizer with ammonium nitrate

Ammonium nitrate

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 nitrateStructure of the chemical compound ammonium nitrate, from which fertilizer is produced.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.Read More on This Topic explosive: Ammonium nitrate After the straight dynamites and gelatins, the next important advance in dynamite was the substitution of ammonium nitrate for part of the…

Ammonium nitrate is a colourless crystalline substance (melting point 169.6 °C ). 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 is a crystalline white powder. (Teravolt)

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound used in agriculture and to make pyrotechnics or cold packs or to perform other interesting demonstrations. It’s also used to create controlled explosions in mining and quarrying. It was once mined as a natural mineral in the deserts of Chile, but it is no longer available except as a man-made compound.

While it is not difficult to make ammonium nitrate, be advised it is dangerous to do so as the chemicals involved can be hazardous. In addition, ammonium nitrate becomes explosive when mixed with fuels or other chemicals.


You can make ammonium nitrate from common household chemicals. Keep in mind, though, that you can buy ammonium nitrate as a pure chemical; alternatively, you can collect it from instant cold packs or some fertilizers more easily and inexpensively than making it yourself. The easiest way to make ammonium nitrate is simply by reacting nitric acid with ammonia, but if you don’t have access to nitric acid (or don’t want to work with such a dangerous chemical), you can make ammonium nitrate from readily available home chemicals.


Natural ammonium nitrate is called niter. It is analogous to saltpeter, which is natural potassium nitrate. (Ben Mills)

The chemicals used in this project are smelly and corrosive, so this project should be performed under a fume hood or outdoors. As always, wear gloves, eye protection, and appropriate clothing.

Some of the reagents and the final product are flammable or are oxidizers, so keep the chemicals away from open flames.


  • 138 g sodium bisulfate (found with pool chemicals, used to lower pH)
  • 1 mole equivalent of a nitrate salt, available as any of the following:
    • 85 g sodium nitrate (common food preservative)
    • 101 g potassium nitrate (which you can buy or make yourself)
    • 118 g calcium nitrate (tetrahydrate)
  • ammonia (common household cleaner)
  • methanol (optional, which may be found as HEET fuel treatment)
  • water
  • pH meter or pH paper
  • access to a stove
  • coffee filter or paper towels


    1. Dissolve the sodium bisulfate in the minimum amount of water (about 300 ml).
    2. Dissolve your nitrate salt in the minimum amount of water (amount depends on the salt).
    3. Mix the two solutions.
    4. Next, you will neutralize the solution, which is quite acidic. Stir in ammonia until the pH of the mixture is 7 or higher. Use a pH meter (or pH paper). Reacting ammonia, sodium bisulfate, and nitrates will give you sodium sulfate and ammonium nitrate.
    5. Sodium sulfate and ammonium nitrate have different solubilities in water, so boil the solution to get the sodium sulfate to crystallize. Remove the liquid from heat when crystals of sodium sulfate form in the bottom of the pan.
    6. Chill the solution in the freezer to get as much of the sodium sulfate as possible to drop out of the solution.
    7. Run the solution through a filter (coffee filter or paper towels) to separate the solid sodium sulfate from the ammonium nitrate solution.
    8. Allow the ammonium nitrate solution to evaporate, which will give you ammonium nitrate, with some sodium sulfate impurity. This is ‘good enough’ for most chemistry projects.
    9. If you want to further purify the ammonium nitrate, dissolve it in about 500 ml of methanol. The ammonium nitrate is soluble in methanol, while the sodium sulfate is not.
    10. Run the solution through a filter, which will give you sodium sulfate on the filter and a solution of ammonium nitrate.
    11. Allow the methanol to evaporate from the solution to obtain crystalline ammonium nitrate.

A fire anywhere is cause for concern, but a fire at a fertilizer plant is a potential catastrophe.

That’s because ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used in agricultural fertilizers, is a highly explosive compound, as shown by the massive fireball at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, Wednesday (April 17).

Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are essential plant nutrients, and fertilizers are graded by the amounts of these elements the fertilizers contain, also called their “NPK rating” (from those elements’ abbreviations on the periodic table).

Ammonium nitrate, or NH4-NO3, is frequently added to improve a fertilizer’s nitrogen content. It’s relatively stable under most conditions and is inexpensive to manufacture, according to Slate, making the chemical a popular alternative to other, more expensive nitrogen sources.

But ammonium nitrate has a potentially lethal downside: If it comes into contact with an open flame or other ignition source, it explodes violently. The explosive force occurs when solid ammonium nitrate decomposes very rapidly into two gases, nitrous oxide and water vapor.

The deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history occurred in the port of Texas City, Texas, in 1947. A carelessly tossed cigarette started a fire aboard a ship carrying about 2,300 tons (2,086,000 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate packed in paper sacks.

When the chemical exploded, it caused a blast powerful enough to knock people to the ground in Galveston, Texas, 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.

The detonation also caused a chain reaction when a nearby ship, also carrying ammonium nitrate, exploded, setting fires at chemical tanks and oil refineries near the port. An estimated 581 people were killed in the disaster.

But not all disasters involving ammonium nitrate are accidents: The fertilizer was packed into a rented truck and used by terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to kill 168 people in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The chemical was used again in the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali that killed 202 people, in the 2011 Oslo bombing by Anders Behring Breivik, which killed eight people, and in numerous other terrorist attacks.

Because of its danger and potential use by terrorists, ammonium nitrate is subject to strict regulation in most places. In 2011, according to NBC News, the Department of Homeland Security established rules limiting the sale of the compound, which is also used as an explosive in the construction and mining industries.

Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

Practical Innovations

Ammonium Nitrate Products

Ammonium Nitrate (AN) is the primary ingredient in many explosives and fertilizers. Annually we produce and source around one million tons of AN for our North American explosives and fertilizer business.

We are a global force in nitrogen-based chemical manufacturing, holding foremost positions in the commercial explosives and fertilizer markets. A large number of mining, quarrying, and construction industries use Ammonium Nitrate (AN) as a critical part of their blasting work. Ammonium Nitrate in prill form is the primary ingredient in ANFO based products and the key component (in both prill and liquid form) in a full range of customized bulk explosive blends.

From our years of experience in supplying Ammonium Nitrate explosive to national and international companies across the globe, we understand how important it is to provide exceptional products that our customers can depend on to give them the results they’re after. We have invested heavily in our processing technology and quality control systems, rigorously testing each product at every stage of the manufacturing process to ensure it meets the high standards our customers demand.

Ammonium Nitrate Industrial Grade

Low density Ammonium Nitrate explosive is used extensively in the mining industry and is intentionally made very porous to allow for the rapid uptake of liquid fuel oil. The prill is coated with a trace amount of a waxy anti-caking material to enhance flowability and handling characteristics.

Ammonium Nitrate 83% Liquor

The hot Ammonium Nitrate Liquor is used extensively in the mining industry.

Industrial Grade Ammonium Nitrate LoDAN™

Low density Ammonium Nitrate explosive is used extensively in the mining industry and is intentionally made very porous to allow for the rapid uptake of liquid fuel oil. The prill is coated with a paraffin which makes the Ammonium Nitrate difficult to dissolve and use for other applications.

Ammonium Nitrate 10% Liquid Fertilizer

This liquid fertilizer is used in direct application with spray atomization or put into sprinkler systems. Ammonium Nitrate is a fast release fertilizer. The plants quickly absorb the nitrate ion and Ammonium ion for immediate metabolism.

We Understand the Needs of Our Customers

In this industry, accurate, timely operational implementation is critical. We know there’s no room for second chances or near misses. When you order Ammonium Nitrate explosive from us, you’re dealing with a highly experienced and professional company that understands the requirements and regulations of the industry, the needs of our customers and the unique markets they operate within.

Dedicated to the Distribution of Top Quality Chemicals

Meeting the needs of the mining, quarrying, and construction industries is our top priority. We can provide the compounds you need to get the job done. Our comprehensive production, supply, storage, transportation, distribution, and retail network allows Dyno Nobel to provide the security of supply our customers demand.

We’re ideally placed to supply your company with the top quality industrial grade Ammonium Nitrate explosives products you’re looking for. To find out more about how we can help, contact our customer service team at (800) 473-2675.

Contact us to get a free copy of our Explosives Engineers’ Guide, or download our free App.

Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer: How To Use Ammonium Nitrate In Gardens

One of the key needs for successful plant growth is nitrogen. This macro-nutrient is responsible for the leafy, green production of a plant and enhances overall health. Nitrogen is derived from the atmosphere, but this form has a strong chemical bond that is difficult for plants to uptake. Easier forms of nitrogen that occur in processed fertilizers include ammonium nitrate. What is ammonium nitrate? This type of fertilizer has been widely used since the 1940’s. It is a fairly simple compound to make and inexpensive, making it a top choice for agricultural professionals.

What is Ammonium Nitrate?

Nitrogen comes in many forms. This major plant nutrient can be taken in by plants through the roots or from the stoma in the leaves and stems. Additional sources of nitrogen are often added to soil and plants in areas without sufficient natural sources of nitrogen.

One of the first solid nitrogen sources produced in a large scale capacity is ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is the most common use of the compound but it also has a very volatile nature, which makes it useful in certain industries.

Ammonium nitrate is an odorless, nearly colorless crystal salt. Using ammonium nitrate in gardens and large scale agricultural fields enhances plant growth and provides a ready supply of nitrogen from which plants can draw.

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is a simple compound to make. It is created when ammonia gas is reacted with nitric acid. The chemical reaction produces a concentrated form of ammonium nitrate, which produces prodigious amounts of heat. As a fertilizer, the compound is applied as granules and fused with ammonium sulfate to minimize the volatile nature of the compound. Anti- caking agents are also added to the fertilizer.

Other Uses for Ammonium Nitrate

In addition to its usefulness as a fertilizer, ammonium nitrate is also employed in certain industrial and construction settings. The chemical compound is explosive and useful in mining, demolition activities and quarry work.

The granules are very porous and can absorb large amounts of fuel. Exposure to fire will cause a long, sustained and large explosion. In most cases, the compound is very stable and can only become explosive in certain conditions.

Food preservation is another area that is using ammonium nitrate. The compound makes an excellent cold pack when one bag of water and one bag of the compound are united. Temperatures can drop to 2 or 3 degrees Celsius very rapidly.

How to Use Ammonium Nitrate

Ammonium nitrate in gardens is made stable with other compounds. The fertilizer is an almost instantly useable form of nitrogen due to its porosity and solubility. It provides nitrogen from both the ammonia and the nitrate.

The standard method of application is by broadcast spreading the granules. These will rapidly melt in water to allow the nitrogen to release into soil. The rate of application is 2/3 to 1 1/3 cup of ammonium nitrate fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of land. After broadcasting the compound, it should be tilled in or watered in very thoroughly. The nitrogen will move quickly through the soil to the roots of the plant for rapid uptake.

The most common uses for the fertilizer are in vegetable gardens and in hay and pasture fertilization due to the high nitrogen content.

Ammonium nitrate was the first solid nitrogen (N) fertilizer produced on a large scale, but its popularity has declined in recent years. It’s been a common N source because it contains both nitrate and ammonium, and it has a relatively high nutrient content.


Large-scale production of ammonium nitrate began in the 1940s when it was used for munitions during wartime. After the end of World War II, ammonium nitrate became available as a commercial fertilizer. The production of ammonium nitrate is relatively simple: Ammonia gas is reacted with nitric acid to form a concentrated solution and considerable heat.

Prilled fertilizer forms when a drop of concentrated ammonium nitrate solution (95 percent to 99 percent) falls from a tower and solidifies. Low-density prills are more porous than high-density prills and are preferred for industrial use, while high-density prills are used as fertilizer. Manufacturers produce granular ammonium nitrate by repeatedly spraying the concentrated solution onto small granules in a rotating drum.

Since ammonium nitrate is hygroscopic and therefore readily attracts moisture from air, it’s commonly stored in air-conditioned warehouses or in sealed bags. Manufacturers typically coat the solid fertilizer with an anti-caking compound to prevent sticking and clumping.

Small quantities of carbonate minerals are sometimes added prior to solidifying, which eliminates ammonium nitrate’s explosive properties. These additives lower the N concentration and are sparingly soluble, making the modified product less suitable for application through an irrigation system (fertigation).

Agricultural use

Ammonium nitrate is a popular fertilizer since it provides half of the N in the nitrate form and half in the ammonium form. The nitrate form moves readily with soil water to the roots, where it’s immediately available for plant uptake. The ammonium fraction is taken up by roots or gradually converted to nitrate by soil microorganisms. Many vegetable growers prefer an immediately available nitrate source of plant nutrition and use ammonium nitrate. Animal farmers like it for pasture and hay fertilization since it’s less susceptible to volatilization losses than urea-based fertilizers when left on the soil surface.

Ammonium nitrate is commonly mixed with other fertilizers, but these mixtures can’t be stored for long periods because of a tendency to absorb moisture from the air. The very high solubility of ammonium nitrate makes it well suited for making solutions for fertigation or foliar sprays.

Management practices

Easy handling and high nutrient content make ammonium nitrate a popular N fertilizer It’s also very soluble in the soil, and the nitrate portion can move beyond the root zone under wet conditions. Nitrate can also be converted to nitrous oxide gas in very wet conditions through the process of denitrification. The ammonium portion isn’t subject to considerable loss until it’s oxidized to nitrate.

Concerns over illegal use of this fertilizer for explosives have caused strict government regulation in many parts of the world. Restrictions on sales and transportation have caused some fertilizer dealers to discontinue handling this material.

Non-agricultural uses

A low-density form of prilled ammonium nitrate is widely used as an explosive in the mining industry and on construction sites. Manufacturers intentionally make it porous to allow rapid adsorption of fuel oil (termed “ANFO”).

Instant cold packs are made with two bags—one containing dry ammonium nitrate and the second containing water. When the barrier separating the bags is ruptured, the ammonium nitrate rapidly dissolves in an endothermic reaction, lowering the pack’s temperature to 2 to 3 degrees Celsius within a very short time.

Source: Nutrient Source Specifics, No. 22, International Plant Nutrition Institute.

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