Is Ammonia flammable? (A comprehensive overview)

This article will give you the answer to the question “Is Ammonia flammable?” and it will explain to you what exactly ammonia is. The article will also help you to understand the importance of ammonia, its properties and its uses.

Is Ammonia flammable gas?

Yes, ammonia is a flammable gas. Although it is not extremely flammable, ammonia can cause explosions when brought in contact with a heat source. It is a gas which has no color but has a very pungent smell. It is a compound which is made up of one atom of nitrogen and three atoms of hydrogen, hence its formula is NH3. 

Discovery of Ammonia

Humphry Davy was the first to produce ammonia from its elements in 1807. While he was experimenting, a small amount of ammonia was detected when distilled water was electrolyzed in the presence of air.

In 1908, a German scientist called Fritz Haber discovered the synthesis of ammonia. However, a decade later he found the potential use of ammonia as a useful form of nitrogen and its chemical reactivity. Haber even won a Nobel prize for this discovery. Later ammonia was produced commercially at high temperatures and pressures, by catalyzing nitrogen and hydrogen.

Ammonia (as a molecule)

It is a compound which is made up of one atom of nitrogen and three atoms of hydrogen and its formula is NH3. Ammonia is a stable hydride and it is colorless and slightly flammable. The mass of ammonia is 17.031 g/mol. 

Ammonia has the trigonal pyramidal geometry which means that a  nitrogen atom is bonded to three hydrogen atoms in the middle. Nitrogen has five atoms in the outermost shell hence it is necessary for it to join with three hydrogen atoms in order to fulfill the octet criteria. 

Physical Properties of Ammonia

The physical properties of ammonia are given below:

  • The boiling point of ammonia is −33.34 °C
  • The melting point of ammonia is  ​−77.73 °C
  • The density of ammonia is 0.769  kg/m3 at standard temperature and pressure (STP)
  • The triple point of ammonia is 195.4 K (–77.75 °C), 6.060 kPa
  • The critical point of ammonia is 405.5 K, 11280 kPa
  • The heat of vaporization of ammonia is 23.5 kJ/mol 
  • The heat of fusion of ammonia is 5.65 kJ/mol
  • The molar heat capacity of ammonia is 35 J/(mol·K)

Key facts about Ammonia

Some of the key facts about ammonia are as follows:

  • Ammonia is a flammable gas but not highly flammable.
  • Ammonia has an unpleasant, pungent smell which can cause irritation.
  • Ammonia has alkaline characteristics and it is corrosive in nature.
  • Ammonia gas can be easily compressed.
  • Ammonia gas forms a clear liquid when subjected to pressure.
  • Shipping of ammonia is commonly done in liquid state with the use of containers made of steel.

Flammability and combustion of Ammonia 

Combustion of Ammonia (in the presence of oxygen) forms water and nitrogen gas. This reaction is exothermic, which means that the reaction releases energy in the form of heat. Therefore, ammonia is flammable. The  chemical reaction for the combustion of ammonia is given below:

4 NH3 + 3 O2 → 2 N2 + 6 H2O 

The byproduct of this combustion reaction is dinitrogen.

Role of Ammonia in the environment

Ammonia is the most abundantly available alkaline gas in the atmosphere. By forming particulate matter in the atmosphere, atmospheric nitrate deposition to sensitive ecosystems, and visibility degradation, ammonia plays a crucial role.

The human body and the environment naturally have ammonia in them. The nitrogen cycle in the environment involves the production of ammonia. The bacterial processes are responsible for the production of ammonia in the soil. Other ways by which ammonia is produced naturally are by decomposition of organic substances like plant and animal wastes.

On the other hand, in addition to nitrogen oxides, ammonia is a major source of nitrogen pollution. The effect of pollution of ammonia on biodiversity is the accumulation of nitrogen in affected habitats, which can lead to changes in species composition and diversity.

Uses of Ammonia

Ammonia has a wide range of uses due to its versatile nature. Some of them are:

  • Ammonia as a fertilizer
  • Ammonia as cleaning agent
  • Ammonia as an antimicrobial agent
  • Ammonia in the fermentation industry

Ammonia as a fertilizer

Plants need nitrogen to grow, which is an important nutrient for growing crops and lawns. Ammonia is the building block for ammonium nitrate fertilizers. There is no commercial fertilizer that contains more nitrogen than ammonia. It can be put in the soil directly or can be mixed with other common nitrogen fertilizers.

Ammonia as a cleaning agent

A wide variety of surfaces can be cleaned with ammonia, which is an ingredient in many household products. Surfaces such as kitchen tops, floors, toilets, etc can be cleaned with ammonia. Ammonia is used because it evaporates easily and has the potential to break down grime and dirt in these surfaces which are caused due to oils and fats that contain saturated compounds.

Ammonia as an antimicrobial agent

Ammonia has the ability to inhibit the growth of microorganisms and kill the existing ones. 

Ammonium compounds are generally stable and can be manufactured with ease. Hence, growth of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms can be stopped by using antimicrobial agents that contain ammonia as a potential ingredient.

Ammonia in the fermentation industry

Compounds made of nitrogen, such as ammonia are essential for plants, animals and other living organisms. The key role of ammonia in fermentation is to provide nutrients for yeast growth and yeast metabolism. The main advantage of ammonium salts in fermentation is due to their consumption which causes the pH to decrease, which is required for citric acid fermentation.

Hazards of Ammonia

Although ammonia is not an extremely flammable gas, it is categorized as slightly flammable. Some studies show that when ammonia comes in contact with water or moisture content, it can cause serious inflammatory reactions.

Some of the hazards caused by ammonia are as follows:

  • Skin Hazard
  • Eye Hazard
  • Inhalation Hazard
  • Ingestion Hazard

Skin Hazard:

At lower concentrations, when ammonia comes in contact with the skin it can cause itching and irritation. At higher concentrations, it can cause very serious rashes and skin allergies. Hence, while handling ammonia or any such harmful chemical, protective gear and gloves must be worn at all times.

Eye Hazard: 

When exposed to lower concentrations of ammonia, it can cause sudden irritation of the eye which may lead to tearing of the eyes. On the other hand, when exposed to higher concentrations, ammonia can cause issues as serious as permanent damage of the eye such as blindness. In such cases, the affected person must wash the eyes thoroughly with clean water or should be immediately taken to the hospital.

Inhalation Hazard:

We know that ammonia is a very corrosive, irritating and pungent gas. Inhalation of ammonia can cause serious inflammatory reactions such as burning of nostrils, oesophagus and even the entire respiratory system. Inhalation of ammonia is also known to cause fatigue and lethargy. This can be prevented if fresh air or artificial air is immediately introduced. 

Ingestion Hazard:

Intake of ammonia through the mouth may happen unknowingly in some cases and this may lead to serious ingestion hazards. As ammonia is corrosive in nature, it can lead to severe destruction of the stomach, mouth and the entire digestive system. In such cases, the affected person must be immediately taken to the hospital.

Conclusion

This article addresses the question “Is Ammonia flammable?” 

The article has given a comprehensive overview of Ammonia and its flammability. The article has also given information about the physical properties, facts, uses and hazards of ammonia.

Please do not hesitate to comment on the above content or ask any questions in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is Ammonia flammable?

Is ammonia flammable and toxic?

Yes, ammonia is a flammable gas. It is also known to be toxic as it causes serious health effects when it comes in contact with the skin, eye or mouth. Concentrations of ammonia above 2000 ppm can be fatal and concentrations above 5000 ppm can cause loss of breath, leading to death.

Does ammonia ignite?

Ammonia is slightly flammable. Although it cannot be ignited readily, it can cause severe explosions when exposed to heat sources such as spark or even smoke.

At what temperature is ammonia flammable?

Ammonia is flammable. It can be ignited at 651 °C if it is in the catalysed form. In case of non catalysed form, it can be ignited at 854.4 °C.

Is ammonia corrosive? 

Yes, ammonia is corrosive. Especially when ammonia comes in contact with a metal such as steel, it can lead to cracks in the metal. When dissolved with water ammonia may not be as corrosive.

Why does ammonia explode? 

Since ammonia is flammable, it can cause explosions. When exposed to higher temperature, the nitrates in the gas decompose which then causes ammonia to explode.

Can ammonia be used as a fuel? 

Yes, ammonia can be used as a fuel. However there may be issues such as low radiation, low flammability, etc. Also, ammonia can be converted into electricity in a power plant or a fuel cell.

What is the suitable extinguishing media to put off fires caused by ammonia?

In order to put off fires caused due to leakage or spill of ammonia, fire extinguishers with dry chemical powder can be used. Alternatively; foam, water or even carbon dioxide extinguishers can be used.

How to handle ammonia spills?

In case of spills or leakage of ammonia, the situation must be immediately reported. Persons handling the spill must wear protective gear at all times. Firstly, all the heating sources which cause ignition must be removed. Then, the area should be provided with artificial ventilation in order to avoid any explosion.

References

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