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Anhydrous Ammonia: Uses & Safety

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  • 0:04 Anhydrous Ammonia
  • 1:09 Anhydrous Ammonia Uses
  • 2:28 Anhydrous Ammonia Safety
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Taormina Lepore

Taormina has taught advanced high school biology, is a science museum educator, and has a Master's degree in museum paleontology.

Anhydrous ammonia is ammonia in its pure form, without water. It has several uses in the agricultural and cleaning industries, and in molecule synthesis. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the uses and safety precautions of anhydrous ammonia.

Anhydrous Ammonia

You've probably smelled it before, the sharp, almost overpowering smell of - cat urine? Yes, ammonia is present in harmless amounts in cat pee, and in ammonia's pure form the smell can knock the air right out of your lungs. This strong, colorless compound can exist as a gas or a liquid, and under pressure it actually has no smell at all. But once exposed to the air, it can be so strong that prolonged exposure will desensitize the human nose to its overpowering odor.

Anhydrous ammonia is the gas or compressed liquid form of ammonia that contains no water. That is, it is an- (meaning without) hydrous (meaning water). It's made up of one part nitrogen, and three parts hydrogen. It's an important compound, used in a diluted form in everyday household cleaning, as well as in the industrial cleaning industry. It has several uses in agriculture and the manufacture and synthesis of certain molecules.

Even though anhydrous ammonia is useful, it must be handled with caution. Ammonia can cause physiological damage, and can even ignite into deadly explosions.

Anhydrous Ammonia Uses

How is anhydrous ammonia used? As a liquid, it's commonly diluted and used as a household cleaner. You may have smelled the sharp odor of ammonia while cleaning your bathroom or kitchen. Anhydrous ammonia is also an important industrial cleaner, where its full strength can eradicate some strains of harmful bacteria and make industrial metal shine.

As a fertilizer, anhydrous ammonia gas is compressed into liquid and mixed with other plant growth enhancers. It can also be applied in gaseous form, where it combines with the moisture in the dirt, resulting in ammonia-enriched fertilizer soil. Even though anhydrous ammonia can be very dangerous, the nitrogen within its chemical structure actually makes the chemical quite healthy for plant growth. Anhydrous ammonia is widely available and easy to apply, making it a good option to boost plant productivity.

Anhydrous ammonia is used in the manufacture of a number of medicines. However, that also makes it a high risk for theft and use in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, a psychoactive drug also known as meth. Theft of the amount of anhydrous ammonia needed to make methamphetamine usually targets agricultural storage centers, where the ammonia is kept for fertilizer use. Its importance as an intermediate step in the formation of other chemical compounds makes anhydrous ammonia a common presence in pharmaceutical chemistry labs.

Anhydrous Ammonia Safety

Since we've been discussing the use of anhydrous ammonia in the cleaning industry, as a fertilizer additive, and in manufacturing, let's talk about safety with ammonia in each of these cases. When using anhydrous ammonia as a household cleaner, even its diluted form can cause skin and eye irritation or burns. Always use gloves and goggles when working with diluted anhydrous ammonia. In the industrial cleaning industry, stronger concentrations of ammonia can cause severe burns, respiratory issues, and can even be fatal. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) must always be used. Examples of PPE include chemical protective gloves, splash goggles, a chemical apron, sleeve protectors, and even a respirator mask.

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