Difference Between Ammonium Nitrate and Ammonium Sulphate (With Table)

Ammonium Nitrate and Ammonium Sulphate refer to two crystalline chemical compounds often mistaken for each other. The former, however, is a composite of ammonia and nitric acid, while the latter is an inorganic salt of sulphur and nitrogen. It is, therefore, important to differentiate between the two to prevent any hazardous after-effects of the misuse of these chemicals. 

Ammonium Nitrate vs Ammonium Sulphate 

The difference between ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulphate is that ammonium nitrate refers to the chemical compound of ammonia and nitric acid. On the other hand, ammonium sulphate refers to the inorganic salt of sulphur and nitrogen. Another significant difference between the two chemicals is in their usage. Ammonium nitrate, when combined with alcohol, can be used to create explosive items. Ammonium sulphate, however, can be used as a food additive since it is a safe compound. 

Ammonium Nitrate refers to a chemical compound composed of ammonia and nitric acid. Its formula is NH₄NO₃ and has a molar mass of 80.043 g/mol. Ammonium nitrate easily dissolves in water and is hygroscopic as a solid. The most significant use of ammonium nitrate is as a nitrogen-rich fertiliser in agriculture. 

Ammonium sulphate refers to the inorganic salt of sulphur and nitrogen. Its formula is (NH₄)₂SO₄ and has a molar mass of 132.14 g/mol. Ammonium sulphate is soluble in water. The most prominent use of ammonium sulphate is as a soil fertiliser. In addition, ammonium sulphate can be used as a food additive since it is a safe compound. 

Comparison Table Between Ammonium Nitrate and Ammonium Sulphate 

Parameters of ComparisonAmmonium Nitrate Ammonium Sulphate 
DefinitionAmmonium Nitrate refers to a chemical compound composed of ammonia and nitric acid. Ammonium sulphate refers to the inorganic salt of sulphur and nitrogen. 
Chemical FormulaNH₄NO₃(NH₄)₂SO₄
Molar Mass80.043 g/mol132.14 g/mol
Practical Application It has practical application as a component in explosives. It has practical application as a fertiliser in alkaline soils. 
Level of Hazardousness It is a more hazardous chemical in comparison to ammonium sulphate.It is a safer chemical in comparison to ammonium nitrate. 

What is Ammonium Nitrate?

Ammonium Nitrate refers to a chemical compound composed of ammonia and nitric acid. Its formula is NH₄NO₃, and it has a molar mass of 80.043 g/mol. With a density of 1.72 g/cm³, ammonium nitrate easily dissolves in water. As a solid, ammonium nitrate is hygroscopic. It is a colourless and crystalline salt. 

Although ammonium nitrate is not explosive on its own, it can form dangerous substances when combined with fuels like fuel oil or aluminium powder. Some examples of explosives that consist of ammonium nitrate as a component are ANFO, DBX, Astrolite, and Amatex. Moreover, explosives based on ammonium nitrate came into use during several terrorist attacks, such as the 2011 bombings at Delhi and the 2013 blasts in Hyderabad.  

In a more general scenario, ammonium nitrate has practical application in cold packs due to its endothermic property. Another usage of ammonium nitrate is as a nitrogen-rich enhancer in agriculture. Ammonium nitrate is a good enhancer for plants in acidic soil. It helps to provide the necessary nutrients and minerals for plant growth. 

The storage, safety, and handling of ammonium nitrate require utmost attention and consciousness. The reason for the same is that salt is a potentially hazardous substance. In addition, the manufacturing of ammonium nitrate should be carried out only by industrial professionals. 

What is Ammonium Sulphate?

Ammonium sulphate refers to the inorganic salt of sulphur and nitrogen. Its formula is (NH₄)₂SO₄ and has a molar mass of 132.14 g/mol. With a density of 1.72 g/cm³, ammonium sulphate is soluble in water but not in alcohol or acetone. It is a crystalline salt with no smell and a salty taste. Ammonium sulphate’s reaction with alkaline substances releases ammonia as a gas. 

The most common use of ammonium sulphate is as a soil enhancer for alkaline soils. Its usage as a herbicide is also well known. Ammonium sulphate burns the leaves of the plants by either weakening them for easy removal or killing them immediately. It also has a use in the manufacturing of flame retardant material and printed circuit boards. 

Ammonium sulphate has practical application as an additive due to its relatively harmless nature. The yeast activation property of this inorganic composite helps industrially produced bread to rise. During the purification process, ammonium sulphate plays a prominent role in developing vaccines. An example is the Dtap vaccine which uses ammonium sulphate for this particular purpose. 

The usage of ammonium sulphate should be carried out with utmost care as it can prove to be dangerous for both the people and the environment. Issues like severe irritation and inflammation of the respiratory tract when inhaled, and itching, redness, or pain when in contact with the skin/eyes can be detrimental. Thus, one must take necessary safety measures like wearing a personal respirator and chemical safety goggles when using ammonium sulphate. 

Main Differences Between Ammonium Nitrate and Ammonium Sulphate 

  1. Ammonium nitrate refers to the chemical compound of ammonia and nitric acid. On the other hand, ammonium sulphate refers to the inorganic salt of sulphur and nitrogen. 
  2. Ammonium nitrate, when combined with alcohol, can be used to create explosive items. Ammonium sulphate, however, can be used as a food additive since it is a safe compound. 
  3. The formula for ammonium nitrate is NH₄NO₃. In contrast, the chemical formula for ammonium sulphate is (NH₄)₂SO₄. 
  4. The molar mass of ammonium nitrate is 80.043 g/mol, whereas the molar mass of ammonium sulphate is 132.14 g/mol. 
  5. Ammonium nitrate has practical application as a substance in the manufacture of explosives. On the other hand, ammonium sulphate has a use as a nitrogen fertiliser for alkaline soils and as a food additive. 

Conclusion

To put it in a nutshell, ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulphate are chemicals of varying properties. Although the two are similar in terms of colour, density and solubility, they differ in chemical composition, molar mass, practical applications and the like. 

Ammonium nitrate is a more hazardous salt than ammonium sulphate. While ammonium sulphate has practical application as a food additive and soil enhancer, ammonium nitrate has a prominent use as a component in explosives. Despite the differences, it is necessary to take precautionary measures when dealing with any of the two chemical compounds. 

References

  1. https://scripts.iucr.org/cgi-bin/paper?a09034
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc1269013/ 
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