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1 mr.JA  Thu, Apr 18, 2013 3:26:44pm

This must have been NH4NO3 - anhydrous ammonia is only used by the chemistry industry, and even then mostly as a watery for, max % around 33%. Further, NH3 is a gas, and considering that it only a reductor, it is unlikely to cause a detonation.

Take care that in agriculture, often the most reduced forms of the compounds are shown, which is NOT equal to the chemical formula of the stuff. You’ll see for sulfor fertiliser ‘SO3’, [whereas the sulfate salt is like (NH4)2SO4] whereas pure SO3 is so agressive that even very seasoned chemists are very ware of handling the stuff…

See here for a table, NH3 and NH4NO3 are also listed:
mn.nrcs.usda.gov factors/conversionfactors3.pdf

2 klys  Thu, Apr 18, 2013 3:40:09pm

re: #1 mr.JA

I believe you might want to check sources. There’s plenty of evidence out there that suggests anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer. For example, a guide for responding to spills from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture:

What is ammonia?
Anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer by Minnesota producers of field corn and wheat. Anhydrous ammonia (or just ammonia for ease of discussion) provides nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient to maximize yields. Ammonia is also found naturally in the environment, the result of vegetation and animal waste decay. Although ammonia is used as a refrigerant and in the manufacture of many other chemicals, this web site will only discuss ammonia fertilizer.

How is it transported and applied?
Fertilizer ammonia is transported from the site of production via barge, pipeline, rail, and truck to fertilizer terminals or directly to dealers. To conserve space and make it easy to handle, ammonia is kept as a liquid under pressure in specially designed bulk tanks. The fertilizer dealer (PDF: 91 KB / 1 page) pumps liquid ammonia from their bulk tank into smaller mobile nurse tanks. These nurse tanks are towed to a field and hitched up behind a tractor with a tool bar equipped with knives that inject the liquid ammonia into the soil. Once in the soil ammonia will quickly react with soil moisture and change to a form the crop can use.

I certainly agree that it is not the most likely candidate for an explosion, but an energetic expansion of gas (due to rapid conversion from the liquid, which it was stored as in a tank on premise) combined with an ignition source (it is flammable with the right air-to-fuel ratio) could produce a large fireball that most people would term an ‘explosion’, even if the technical definition is not met. There was an active fire ongoing at the time of the explosion; this could have easily met the ignition temperature criteria once the proper ratio was achieved.


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