Editors’ Picks: Fertilizer mix cuts explosion risk

A New Jersey firm says it’s discovered a mix that makes it “extremely difficult” to weaponize ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Honeywell Resins and Chemicals, which bills itself as one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of ammonium sulfate fertilizer, said Sept. 23 it’s picked up what’s called “SAFETY Act” designation for its new, patented product from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The designation provides incentives and liability protections for development of “anti-terrorism technologies.”

“Ammonium nitrate has long been an excellent fertilizer, but this technology makes it safer,” said Qamar Bhatia, Honeywell’s general manager and vice-president, in a release. “The unique composition of this new fertilizer makes it extremely difficult to turn it into a weapon.”

The new product, which Honeywell calls “ammonium sulfate nitrate,” is billed as fusing ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate, to provide both nitrogen and sulfur for plant growth as well as “enhanced safety, quality and storage characteristics.”

In tests that followed guidelines Honeywell developed with the DHS and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, when the new product was mixed with fuel oil — a common method of using ammonium nitrate as an explosive — the product did not detonate, the company said.

“As part of those tests, the new fertilizer was mixed with a number of substances, including explosives, sensitizer and fuel oil. In all tests, the new fertilizer significantly reduced or eliminated the explosive power of traditional ammonium nitrate,” the company said.

Honeywell, which hopes to market the product as fertilizer under the trade name “Sulf-N 26,” said it’s now running pilot plant test production to finalize scale-up and engineering for manufacturing, and is also in talks with potential manufacturing partners. It said it hopes to have “limited quantities” available for sale in some regions in 2009.

The company said “independent agronomic tests on crops and plants” at major universities in Canada, the U.S. and Brazil found Sulf-N 26 to be “as effective or more effective compared to alternative fertilizers, including straight mixtures of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate.” Crops tested ranged “from grass to cabbage and tomatoes to strawberry and oranges.”

The Canadian government placed new regulations on the sale of ammonium nitrate effective June 1, requiring anyone selling it to be registered with the explosives regulatory division of Natural Resources Canada. The product’s resale is also prohibited.

Among the most infamous fertilizer-bomb attacks was the bombing of a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing over 150 people, for which domestic attackers detonated a combination of ammonium nitrate and motor fuel.

— The “Editors’ Picks” feature will highlight unusual-yet-true news from the world of farming, as gleaned from various sources by the editorial staff of the Farm Business Communications division.

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