Ammonia Production Social Relevance Report

Ammonia is a colorless alkaline gas with the formula NH3 and is made up of one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen.It is lighter than air and has a sharp, stinging odour.  Ammonia can be inhaled safely if it is greatly diluted in air, but concentrated ammonia gas can cause suffocation and death.  Ammonia does not burn is air, but it burns in oxygen with a weak yellow flame.


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Ammonia gas is extremely soluble in water, as it is able to form hydrogen bonds with polar water molecules.  It changes to a liquid at ¡V33.35 oC.  Liquid ammonia boils at the same temperature.  It freezes to a clear solid at 77.7 oC.  In going from a liquid back to a gas, ammonia absorbs a large amount of heat from its surroundings.  Upon evaporation, one gram of ammonia absorbs 327 calories of heat.  For this reason, ammonia is widely used in refrigeration equipment.  Liquid ammonia is used in the chemical laboratory as a solvent.  It is a better solvent for ionic and polar compounds than ethanol, but not as good as water; it is a better solvent for nonpolar covalent compounds that water, but not as good as ethanol.  It dissolves alkali metals and barium, calcium and strontium by forming an unstable blue solution containing the metal ion and free electrons that slowly decomposes, releasing hydrogen and forming the metal amide.  Compared to water, liquid ammonia is less likely to release protons (H+ ions), but is more likely to take up protons to form NH4+ ions and is a strong reducing agent.  Ammonia takes part in many chemical reactions.  It reacts with strong acids to form stable ammonium salts, with hydrogen chloride it forms ammonium chloride, with nitric acid to form ammonium nitrate and with sulfuric acid to form ammonium sulfate.  Ammonia reacts with certain metal ions to form complex ions called ammines.  It also takes part in oxidation and reduction reactions.  It burns in oxygen to form nitrogen gas, N2 and water.  In the presence of a catalyst (eg, platinum) it is oxidized in air to form water and nitric oxide, NO.  It reduces hot-metal oxides to the metal (eg, cupric oxide to copper).

Uses: –

Ammonia solutions are used to clean, bleach, deodorise, etch aluminium, saponify (hydrolyse) oils and fats and in chemical manufacture.  The ammonia sold for household use is a dilute water solution of ammonia in which ammonia hydroxide is the active cleaning agent.  It should be used with caution since it can attack the skin and eyes. Ammonia is widely used as a fertiliser.  Ammonium nitrate and other ammonium salts help to increase crop production because they have a high percentage of nitrogen.  Large quantities of ammonia are oxidised to make nitric acid, which is needed to make such explosives as TNT (trinitrotoluene), nitroglycerine and ammonium nitrate.  The textile industry uses ammonia in the production of synthetic fibres such as nylon and cuprammonium rayon.  Ammonia is also used in dyeing and scouring cotton, wool and other fibres.  Ammonia water sometimes serves as a cleaning fluid and can be used to restore fabrics that have been stained by acids.  Ammonia is also vital in the manufacture of many chemicals, plastics, vitamins and drugs.  For example, it acts as a catalyst in making plastics such as Bakelite and it is used as a reactant in making melamine resins for plastics.

Ammonia is manufactured by combining nitrogen and hydrogen directly in a process known as the Haber-Bosch Process.

N2 (g) + 3H2 (g)                      2NH3 (g)   ƒ´H= -92kJ


Nitrogen (obtained by fractional distillation of liquid air) and hydrogen (obtained as a by-product of cracking some of the fractions of crude oil) are compressed to about 1000 atmospheres and heated to about 500 oC are passed over a finely divided iron catalyst to form ammonia.  The reaction is exothermic and about 40% to 60% of the nitrogen and hydrogen in the mixture are converted to ammonia.  When the mixture of gases leaving the catalyst chamber is cooled, only ammonia becomes a liquid and it can be removed easily.  Unchanged nitrogen and hydrogen are recycled.


Because raising the temperature will increase the speed of both the forward and reverse reactions, a high temperature should bring the reaction to equilibrium rapidly.  However, according to LeChatelier¡¦s Principle, raising the temperature favours the endothermic reaction, shifting the equilibrium in this case to the left, lowering the yield of ammonia and increasing the time needed to obtain a given quantity of ammonia.  In fact, at 500 oC, only 0.1% of the mass at equilibrium will be ammonia if the reaction is done at 1 atmosphere of pressure.  But according to LeChatelier¡¦s Principle, by increasing the pressure, the equilibrium favours the reaction in which fewer gas molecules are produced.  Such a stress shifts the equilibrium to the right and produces a mixture richer in ammonia.  The aim of industry is to control the reactions so that large amount of useful products are yielded quickly.  In the industrial preparation of ammonia, the gasses are compressed to high pressures.  As a result, the yield of ammonia is increased considerably even though a high temperature is maintained to make the reaction come to equilibrium quickly.  The temperature chosen is a compromise between the two factors.

Fritz Haber discovered in 1913 the process for synthesising ammonia.  It was used in the first World War to create bombs and explosives for his country.  Despite this use of his project, he was still awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918 for his work and research.  Later, in the 1930¡¦s, a German chemist, Karl Bosch, adapted this method for commercial and industrial use.  Now, the Haber-Bosch Process is used in the manufacture of explosives and the production of fertilisers.








Ï Sutton, M. 1989, Children¡¦s Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Ï Stanley, R.J., Joyce D.E., Reynolds S. & Holloway R.B., 1994, SAChEm 2002, Openbook Publishers.


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