What is ammonium nitrate – the substance behind the explosion in Beirut

As stated by the Prime Minister of Lebanon Hassan Diab, the cause of the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, with catastrophic consequences of steel 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port in 2014 with numerous violations.

Ammonium nitrate or ammonium nitrate (NH₄NO₃) is made in the form of small porous pellets and is one of the most common mineral fertilizers in the world. At the same time under certain conditions, it becomes a component of explosives. What happened on 4 August at the port of Beirut?

Ammonium nitrate does not burn by itself. However, it can release oxygen, accelerating the burning. Granules of ammonium nitrate contribute to creating a higher concentration of oxygen than in the air surrounding us. That is why it is effective in the production of explosives when mixed with oil and other fuels.

Ammonium nitrate

However, at sufficiently high temperatures ammonium nitrate begins to decompose spontaneously with the formation of gases, including nitrogen oxides and water vapor, which provoked the explosion.

The reason for the decomposition of ammonium nitrate may explode due to heavy fire near the place of its storage, as it was in Tianjin (China) in 2015.

While the exact causes of the tragedy in the port of Beirut is unknown, but the footage for a few moments before the explosion shows that there was a fire. With the explosion of the ammonium nitrate generated a huge amount of nitrogen oxides. One of them, nitrogen dioxide (NO2): a gas with a heavy, unpleasant smell of the red color was clearly visible on the video frames at the moment of explosion.

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