In a previous blog, we have given you the lowdown on why we use ammonia as a refrigerant and how it is much better for the environment as it is a zero-rated emission product. Not only is ammonia the refrigerant of our choice when it comes to using it for our systems, but it also has many, many, other uses. This blog looks at other things that ammonia can be used for – and by the end, you will see how versatile this chemical is and the industries that can use it. Let’s start with the basics.
What actually is ammonia?
Ammonia is found in the environment, humans and can also be made synthetically. In the environment, it is the by-product of decomposing organic material (including vegetation and animal waste), it is often boiled using distillation to help breakdown the gas and material – which can stink! We will come back to the smell of it shortly. In humans it is made by the body and comes out as urine – hence the distinctive smell of wet nappies! At normal room temperature, ammonia is a colourless gas, again with a very distinct smell. When it is shipped it is usually done so as a compressed liquid, and although it is not highly flammable it is very corrosive due to its alkaline property.
So that’s the science behind it in a nutshell. The smell that it gives off is one of the detection factors for our engineers (and our clients). This means if there is a leak of ammonia in any of the plant installations that contain it, it is very easily detectable – because of the smell of the gas. Believe us once it is smelt, the odour stays with you and is never forgotten! In fact, some of you may remember a little bottle that the older generation used to carry about called smelling salts. This bottle could be waved under the nose if a person was feeling faint or had passed out, and it would rapidly make them wake up because of the pungent smell in the bottle. Although smelling salts are much less common these days, we bet if you ask your grandparents, they will remember them!
So other than a refrigerant, what else is it used for?
Because of its organic matter nature, as much as 80% of ammonia that is produced is used as a fertiliser base. But it’s not just the agricultural industry that makes use of ammonia, so many other industries rely on this chemical to help produce products that are used in everyday life. Below we have listed just some of the industries and the uses of ammonia that make products we use both industrially and commercially.
- The water industry – uses ammonia to help purify water.
- Plastic manufacturing – ammonia is used in the process to help produce plastic.
- Agriculture – as well as the fertiliser we have mentioned, ammonia is also used in the production of pesticides for the industry.
- Textiles – ammonia is also used in the production of certain textiles and fabrics. It is also used to produce certain dyes.
- Weapon production – this versatile chemical is used in the production of explosives.
- Household products – ammonia is one of the main ingredients in many household cleaning products, up to 10% of some products contain ammonia. There is a warning on products that contain ammonia in the home, never to mix it with bleach. If this happens it can produce a very poisonous gas!
- Industrial products – again we are talking cleaning products but the industrial versions can have 25% or more ammonia in them.
- The construction industry – there is a tentative link here as ammonia is used to help in the production of wood pulp, which can be formed into material used in building.
So there are loads of uses for this product and refrigeration is just one of them, and it is little wonder why it is one of the world’s most-produced chemicals.
How safe is it?
Like the majority of chemicals, ammonia needs to be treated with respect. As we’ve mentioned above it is corrosive and if breathed in can irritate the respiratory tract, affect vision with watering eyes, and also have a burning effect on the eyes and skin. Luckily for us, the concentration of ammonia even in the event of a leak (which is very unusual) means that we can deal with the issue swiftly without compromising safety, using the skills of our experienced engineers.
If you want to know more about our refrigeration systems that use ammonia, please get in touch with us. Additionally, it is also worth checking out our blog on ammonia and why we use it as a preferred choice of refrigerant.
As always, if you need more information, either check out the website or contact one of our friendly team who will be able to answer your questions.