Scientists have almost accidentally discovered a type of ammonium nitrate that will not explode. The Department of Homeland Security should be ecstatic.
Industrial manufacturer Honeywell said Tuesday it has developed a new nitrogen-based fertilizer that is difficult to ignite — a discovery that could reduce criminals' ability to make explosives used in major terrorist attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing.
Honeywell International Inc. said its patented fertilizer combines ammonium sulfate with ammonium nitrate, providing the nitrogen and sulfur needed for plant nutrition but making it largely useless as a fuel for explosives. The company said that when mixed with substances such as fuel oil — a volatile combination often used to make bombs — the new fertilizer did not detonate.
"The unique composition of this new fertilizer makes it extremely difficult to turn it into a weapon," said Qamar Bhatia, vice president and general manager of Honeywell Resins & Chemicals, in a statement. "Ammonium nitrate has long been an excellent fertilizer, but this technology makes it safer." [More]
Of course, this is not great news for the mining industry necessarily. Diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate (ANFO) has been the staple explosive for quarries and mines for decades. It is cheap, reliable and relatively easy to use. What I suspect is a dual stream will emerge for the two major uses, and regular ol' ammonium nitrate will be tracked like yellowcake, while agriculture may get easier access to this type of fertilizer.
Easier - but not cheaper, of course.