Ammonium Nitrate: Uses & Formula

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  • 0:00 What Is Ammonium Nitrate?
  • 0:40 Uses of Ammonium Nitrate
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical substance with various industrial uses that we encounter more often than we think. In this lesson, we will discuss the formula of ammonium nitrate, as well as its uses.

What Is Ammonium Nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical that I first encountered in the chemistry laboratory back in high school. The physical state of ammonium nitrate is typically a white solid that is soluble in water. The solid can either have a crystalline form or a bead form.

Ammonium Nitrate: Physical Appearance
Ammonium Nitrate: Physical Appearance

The chemical formula of ammonium nitrate is NH4NO3: it has two nitrogen (N) atoms, four hydrogen (H) atoms, and three oxygen (O) atoms. Ammonium nitrate contains two ions: one ammonium ion (NH4+) and one nitrate ion (NO3-), so the bond between these two ions is what we call an ionic bond. The structure of the formula of ammonium nitrate is shown in the following illustration:

Chemical Formula of Ammonium Nitrate
NH4NO3 Structure

Uses of Ammonium Nitrate

Let's discuss some uses for ammonium nitrate.

Fertilizer

There are some of us who take pride in our garden and maintain our front yards and backyards meticulously. The use of fertilizer is very important in this case. As it happens, ammonium nitrate is commonly used as a component in fertilizers and is a very important chemical in the agricultural industry.

Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient, which assists in the plants' growth and processes such as photosynthesis. Ammonium nitrate not only has high nitrogen content, but is also very affordable.

Ammonium Nitrate: Fertilizer
Ammonium nitrate as fertilizer

Explosives

Ammonium nitrate is used in manufacturing explosives. It's actually the main component of an explosive called ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO), which is a mixture of 94% ammonium nitrate and 6% of fuel oil. In this mixture, the ammonium nitrate serves as an oxidizing agent for fuel. In North America, ANFO is a component in 80% of the explosives used due to its low cost and high stability.

Ammonium Nitrate: Component in Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO) Explosive
Ammonium Nitrate in ANFO

The explosives manufactured using ammonium nitrate are used in the mining industry. Additionally, because of its low cost and relative availability, ammonium nitrate is often found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs), also called homemade bombs. The Oklahoma City bombing as well as the bombings of Delhi and Oslo in 2011 all utilized ammonium nitrate-based explosives.

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