Friday, September 5, 2014

Ammonium Nitrate Explodes

On Friday 6th September 2014, a truck carrying 56 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded after rolling over near a bridge on the Mitchell Highway between Cunnamulla and Charleville in the Australian State of Queensland. Eight people were injured, and the Mitchell Highway has been closed "indefinitely".

The most important use for ammonium nitrate is as a fertilizer, but it can also be used as an explosive. An explosion results when ammonium nitrate is brought into contact with heat, a source of ignition such as a spark, or, with reducing agents. Unfortunately, explosions of ammonium nitrate are not rare. A massive explosion of ammonium nitrate on 17th April 2013 resulted in the death of 15 people, and the destruction of the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in Texas, USA.

Ammonium nitrate can be produced in commercial quantities by reacting ammonia gas with  nitric acid.


Further Reading
Naming Ionic Compounds 
Writing Ionic Formula 
Mole Definitions 
Molar Gas Volumes

Suggested Study Questions:
  1. Write the chemical formula for ammonium nitrate 
  2. Explain why this compound is considered to be an ionic compound.
  3. Write a word equation for the reaction between ammonia gas and nitric acid to produce ammonium nitrate
  4. Write a balanced chemical equation for the reaction in question 3.
  5. Ammonium nitrate decomposes in to N2O and H2O when heated. Write a balanced chemical equation for this reaction.
  6. Calculate the molar mass of ammonium nitrate.
  7. Calculate the moles of ammonium nitrate present in the truck.
  8. Assuming that the decomposition of ammonium nitrate results only in gaseous products, what volume of gas at 25oC and 100 kPa would be released by ammonium nitrate in the truck?
  9. Assume the truck could carry a load with a volume of 30,000 L. Can you suggest a reason why rapidly decomposing ammonium nitrate could explode, destroying the truck, the bridge and the road?

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