3rd November 1749. Bombs and Fertilizers.

Nitrogen with phosphorus, arsenic, antimony and bismuth constitute the Nitrogen Group, also called the Pnictogen Group, in the Periodic Table.

Today in 1749 saw the birth of the Scot, Daniel Rutherford who was later credited with being the first to isolate Nitrogen in 1772.(1)

Nitrogen gas (N2) is unreactive and unusable in its inert state, but constitutes 78% of what we breathe. This nature of the element made it difficult for organisms and industry to convert nitrogen into useful compounds such as nitric acid (NHO3) and ammonia (NH3), so that it could be used as fertilizers and explosives.

This  problem was solved the Haber Process which using a catalyst of iron, breaks down the strong triple bonds of nitrogen, thus making the element reactive with hydrogen gas, resulting in ammonia which is the vital route for nitrogen to be used by plants. It is a Process which has been estimated to sustain a third of the world’s population through increased agricultural production.

Many explosives come from unstable nitrogen compounds when they burn, explode, and decay into nitrogen gas, the result of nitration, (introduction of Nitrogen group) into chemical compositions.

One unstable compound is Nitroglycerine, which is a liquid that makes dynamite, due to nitration, which turns glycerine into nitro-glycerine which uses both nitric and sulfuric acid (both processes cause acid rain), and turns toluene into trinitrotoluene (TNT).

In World War I synthetic ammonia was utilised as nitric acid to make munitions. The allies had access to inorganic potassium nitrate salt (saltpetre) from Chile, a fertilizer and major constituent of gunpowder (blackpowder), which Germany lacked,  so the Haber process to make nitric acid and ammonia for explosives, became essential for their war effort.

Potassium nitrate(KNO3), is an inorganic nitrate salt, but the problem is that nitrates are highly soluble and biodegradable and can contaminate water supplies on run-off, and when combined with pesticides and herbicides can result in major environmental damage.

Potassium nitrates, and nitrites salts are often found in soups and meats as colouring and as a preservative since the middle ages. It does this by blocking enzymes which cause degradation and makes food look fresher. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the body and are thought to be generally beneficial to health.(2)

(1)  He died 15 December 1819.

(2) The main nitrates are ammonium, potassium, sodium and calcium salts.

(2) There are certain rules for finding the name of the second part of a salt for instance if the acid is nitric, the base is nitrate.

Ref:nitrogen news.com

Ref Nitrates in Food

Ref: answers.yahoo.com/question. What food/drinks contain nitrates?

Ref: kids.britannica.com.net.

Ref: wikipedia.co.uk/nitrogen.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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