The Common (and Numerous!) Applications for Ammonia

Applications for Ammonia

Ammonia is one of the most commonly-used chemicals throughout the world. 146 million metric tons of ammonia are produced annually.

Ammonia occurs naturally in our environment in our soil, air, and water, as well as all animals. Like other animals, our bodies produce ammonia breaking down food as part of the digestive process. 

While ammonia is part of many environmental processes, it’s also widely used across many industries, including household cleaners, paper, rubber, and even in wastewater remediation. Just how is industrial ammonia used? Here are some of the applications of industrial ammonia.

Ammonia in Pharmaceuticals

Ammonia is used in the pharmaceutical industry for the manufacture of many different products, including nitric acid, soda ash, dyes, and in medications like sulfa drugs, and also in vitamins and cosmetics.

Ammonia is also a component in a radioactive diagnostic agent known as Ammonia N-13 injection, and for the diagnostic Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging of the wall of the heart known as the myocardium and to evaluate patients with suspected or existing coronary artery disease.

In the creation of nitric acid alone, ammonia contributes to pharmaceuticals that do things like:

  • The prevention and treatment of chronic stable angina pectoris as well as to lower the risk of acute coronary syndromes.
  • Cauterizing small wounds, removing granulation tissue, warts, and verrucae, and treating tooth sensitivity
  • In trials and studies surrounding clear cell renal cell carcinoma
  • In trials and studies in the treatment of ocular hypertension and certain forms of glaucoma

Ammonia in Manufacturing

Ammonia is used throughout the manufacturing industry in a wide variety of applications from cleaning products to paper to rubber-soled shoes. It can be in the creation of all kinds of products at almost every stage of the manufacturing process, including:

  • Stabilizing latex and preventing premature coagulation of rubber during transportation to factories for manufacturing
  • Use as a curing agent to protect leathers and furs after manufacturing while they are in storage
  • In the pulping of wood and to disperse casein as a coating for paper
  • As a primary ingredient in many household cleaning products as a powerful cleaning agent to remove stains, clean mirrors, tubs, sinks, and windows, and as a microbial agent and as an antiseptic

Ammonia in the World of Agriculture

Perhaps one of the most widespread uses of ammonia is as an agricultural fertilizer.  In fact, about 90 percent of all ammonia that’s produced is used as a fertilizer for crops that billions of people rely on for sustenance.

Anhydrous ammonia is pressurized then injected below the surface of the soil as a valuable source of nitrogen, which is an essential building block for plant growth. As food crops are produced, they deplete the supply of nitrogen that naturally occurs in the soil, so growers must rely on nitrogen-based fertilizers containing anhydrous ammonia to keep their soils productive. Ammonia is even used in fertilizers that homeowners use to nourish their lawns. 

Ammonia in Petroleum, Metal, and Mining


Mines are becoming deeper and deeper, making heat a growing concern, and those in the mining industry must find safe ways to keep underground temperatures at tolerable levels. 

Because it is an effective refrigerant, ammonia is used in mining in surface mechanical refrigeration plants, evaporative condensers, pre-cooling towers, and bulk air coolers. These cooling systems send ice or chilled water deep down into the mine to reduce the overall ambient mine temperature so it is safe for workers. 

Gold and platinum mines reach as far as 4 kilometers below the earth’s surface, where the temperature can exceed 60° Celsius—the equivalent of 140° Fahrenheit. In mining, ammonia is also used for the extraction of metals like copper and nickel from their ores. 


In the petroleum industry, ammonia can be used to counterbalance and neutralize the acidity of oil in its crude form and helps keep equipment free from corrosion. 


Ammonia is used to treat steel in a process known as nitriding. During this process, heat is used to diffuse ammonia gas onto the surface of metal to harden it. The nitride hardening process integrates with the steel’s surface. When ammonia gas comes into contact with the metal, it separates the nitrogen from the hydrogen, and the nitrogen diffuses onto the surface of the metal to form a nitride layer. 

Ammonia in Water Treatment Plants

Ammonia has been used for more than 70 years to prolong the effectiveness of the disinfection of drinking water. During treatment, chlorine is added to the water supply to kill germs, and ammonia is added to help form chloramines. Ammonia also reduces the formation of chlorination by-products, which can be carcinogenic in nature.  

Chloramine, created by combining ammonia and chlorine, lasts far longer than chlorine alone. Chlorine can quickly evaporate, but chloramine does not, which is crucial to ensuring that water stays disinfected throughout drinking water distribution systems. For this reason, after chlorinating and disinfecting water, ammonia and more chlorine are added to the water so they can react and create the longer-lasting chloramine.

Ammonia in Food, Storage, and Refrigeration

Ammonia is one of the most commonly used food processing preservatives. It helps food manufacturers fend off bacteria and other pathogens that can cause food-borne illness. It doesn’t add any flavor to foods or beverages but directly attacks E. coli bacteria, preventing it from reproducing and spreading.

Ammonia is also an effective refrigerant that’s been widely used across the globe since the 1850s. For a time, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) seemed as though they might replace ammonia-based refrigeration systems, but upon discovering that CFCs were contributing to ozone depletion and greenhouse gases, most countries agreed to phase out the use of CFCs. Ammonia is again the primary refrigerant used in commercial refrigeration systems because:

  • It’s energy-efficient
  • It’s environmentally-friendly
  • It’s easily detectable, making it safer than other refrigerants
  • It’s affordable
  • It requires smaller pipe sizes
  • It has better heat transfer properties

Additionally, ammonia is used in the fermentation processes for many beer breweries. Especially during the summer months, refrigeration is crucial. If the yeast used in the fermentation of beers is exposed to warm temperatures, it can give the beer an unpleasant taste. For this reason, some brewers speculate that ammonia is more commonly used as a refrigerant in breweries than in any other kind of commercial refrigeration.

Airgas Specialty Products: Your Ammonia Supplier

Airgas Specialty Products is dedicated to providing safe, quality distribution of both anhydrous ammonia and ammonium hydroxide, also known as aqua ammonia. We have 27 distribution locations throughout the U.S. making us the premier supplier of ammonia for all of North America.

However you use ammonia, we have the ammonia and ammonia-related services like pump-outs and system engineering and maintenance to ensure your experience with ammonia is a safe, positive one. Can we help with your ammonia supply needs? Contact us today!