Welcome to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Emergency Response to Anhydrous Ammonia Releases (Spills) web site. This site is designed as an educational aid for those who respond to, prepare for, or who will be in charge when a spill of anhydrous ammonia occurs. In most cases that first responder will be a member of the local fire department. Therefore, this site is geared toward providing in-depth instruction for our first responders -- the fire departments of Minnesota
What is ammonia?
Anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer by Minnesota producers of field corn and wheat. Anhydrous ammonia (or just ammonia for ease of discussion) provides nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient to maximize yields. Ammonia is also found naturally in the environment, the result of vegetation and animal waste decay. Although ammonia is used as a refrigerant and in the manufacture of many other chemicals, this web site will only discuss ammonia fertilizer.
How is it transported and applied?
Fertilizer ammonia is transported from the site of production via barge, pipeline, rail, and truck to fertilizer terminals or directly to dealers. To conserve space and make it easy to handle, ammonia is kept as a liquid under pressure in specially designed bulk tanks. The fertilizer dealer (PDF: 91 KB / 1 page) pumps liquid ammonia from their bulk tank into smaller mobile nurse tanks. These nurse tanks are towed to a field and hitched up behind a tractor with a tool bar equipped with knives that inject the liquid ammonia into the soil. Once in the soil ammonia will quickly react with soil moisture and change to a form the crop can use.
Brief history of ammonia
Ammonia is commercially produced by the reaction of nitrogen from the air and hydrogen gas under high temperature and pressure. This process excludes water thus the term "anhydrous". Fritz Haber of Germany was the first to successfully produce ammonia for which he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Later Carl Bosch refined the process which lead to the first commercial production plant in 1913. Ammonia was initially used to produce explosives. After WWI ammonia was used as a fertilizer and in the manufacture of numerous other chemicals. Unfortunately, ammonia has also been used of late as a precursor in the illegal production of the highly additive drug, methamphetamine.
A great number of people voluntarily spent their time and effort in reviewing this web site-improving it immensely. Special acknowledgements go to James Freilinger (MDA employee and Paynesville Fire Department), Gerald Schwartz (Central Lakes Coop and Fire Chief), Robert Sportel (Prinsburg Farmers Coop and Fire Chief), Kristi Rollwagen (Minneapolis Fire), Michael Ritchie (MNDOT), and MDA employees Kim Von Toft, Steve Poncin, Robert Rialson, and Ed Kaiser.
Minnesota Educational & Regulatory Ammonia Program