Applications for Ammonia

Industry Applications for Ammonia

Americans use approximately 11.5 million metric tons per year of industrial ammonia, and about 85 percent of this ammonia is used as a fertilizer. Because of its high nitrogen content, ammonia is injected into soils to help stimulate healthy plant growth.

However, ammonia is way more than just fertilizer.  This chemical is also known as an industrial refrigerant and of course, as a household cleaner, especially for glass. Since ammonia evaporates quite quickly in the air, it’s perfect for getting a streak-free shine on windows and mirrors. 

But the applications of ammonia surpass just use in farm fields, cleaning solutions, and refrigeration systems. Here’s a spotlight on several uses of aqueous and anhydrous ammonia in just a small handful of industries.

Water Treatment: Ammonia as a Purifier

For over 70 years, ammonia has been used in municipal water treatment systems to prolong the effectiveness of the chlorine that’s added to drinking water to serve as a disinfectant. 

On its own, chlorine is a highly efficient disinfectant that kills disease-causing pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and protozoans that often grow in water supply reservoirs and on the walls of water mains and storage tanks. These tiny, microscopic agents can cause diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery, and were responsible for countless deaths before these kinds of disinfecting methods were put in place.

But without the addition of ammonia, chlorine is volatile and doesn’t last very long. When ammonia is added to the chlorine that is used to disinfect water, it forms chloramines, which reduce the formation of potentially carcinogenic by-products. Chloramine also stays active in the water longer than plain chlorine making it ideal for areas where water has to travel farther to reach people and has less of an odor or taste than chlorine.   

Pharmaceuticals: Ammonia as an Agent for Treatment

Ammonia is used in the manufacture of essential components of many medications like sulfa drugs, vitamins, cosmetics, and many things found in the local drugstore. For example, ammonia is used to make sodium bicarbonate, also known as soda ash, which is a main ingredient in many kinds of toothpaste

Ammonia is also used in the making of pharmaceuticals like Fluoxetine, which is an antidepressant often prescribed to those with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bulimia, often with fewer unwanted effects. It’s also used in Amoxicillin, an antibiotic, Valacyclovir, which is used to treat several viruses including shingles, and even over-the-counter Acetaminophen—also known as Tylenol

The product is also a component used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scanes as a radioactive diagnostic agent to take images of the myocardium to evaluate patients who have suspected or existing coronary artery disease. 

Ammonia is used in the creation of other pharmaceutical ingredients like nitric acid, which is used in the treatments of wounds and skin ailments, as well as in many clinical trials and studies for a wide array of medical conditions. 

Energy: Ammonia as a Potential Fuel

Australia is one of several locations where scientists and researchers are exploring a new potential use for ammonia: As a fuel. And Australia is the perfect location to do so, where more sunlight per square meter hits the country more than almost anywhere else and where they experience powerful gusts of wind. 

Australia has the potential to gather 25,000 gigawatts of renewable energy, but because they have a small population and there are very few ways to store or export renewable energy, most of this potential goes unused. But researchers are looking for ways to convert renewable energy into a new, carbon-free fuel in the form of ammonia. 

Not only will these innovations make it easier for farmers and workers in countless other industries to gain affordable access to ammonia, but they could also be the key to turning renewable electricity into an energy-rich gas that can then be compressed and turned into a very eco-friendly fuel. As Douglas McFarlane, an Australian chemist and inventor of this technology stated “Liquid ammonia is liquid energy. It’s the sustainable technology we need.”

Manufacturing: Ammonia for Various Materials

Step into any manufacturing plant and you’re likely to find ammonia being put to good use in one way or another. Ammonia is very commonly used in the manufacturing of a long list of materials that span industries. 

  • Textiles: Ammonia is used in the making of synthetic fibers like nylon and rayon, as well as in the dyeing and scouring of other textiles like cotton, wool, and silk.
  • Resins: Ammonia serves as a catalyst in the manufacture of several varieties of synthetic resin.
  • Petroleum: In the process of refining petroleum, ammonia neutralizes the acidic by-products that are created.
  • Rubber: Ammonia prevents the coagulation of raw latex during transportation to the factory.

Ammonia can also often be found in manufacturing plants where welding is necessary. Since it’s a readily-convertible source of hydrogen, ammonia is frequently used as a reliable, portable source of the atomic hydrogen that’s needed for welding. 

Industrial ammonia is also used for the manufacture of pulp and paper, plastics, explosives, and pesticides. 

Countless Applications

The uses for industrial ammonia are vast—its versatility is quite impressive. Beyond the aforementioned uses, ammonia is also used in the following ways:

  • As a protective treatment for metals
  • In the extraction of copper, nickel, and other metals in the mining industry
  • In stack emission control systems to neutralize sulfur oxides to regulate and protect air quality
  • As a curing agent in the tanning of leather
  • As a source of protein in livestock feeds
  • As an antifungal agent in some fruit crops and a defoliant for cotton before it’s harvested
  • As a source of nitrogen for yeast and microorganisms in some food and beverages
  • And many more

The Country’s Most Reliable Ammonia Supplier: Airgas Specialty Products

At Airgas Specialty Products, we are committed to the safe and reliable distribution of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium hydroxide. With 27 distribution locations spread throughout the United States, we’re the chosen supplier of industrial ammonia for clients in a variety of industries across North America.

No matter your line of work, we’ll provide the ammonia and ammonia-related services to make your work safe and simple. To learn more, contact us today