I\’ve been trying to puzzle through what might have happened in that dreadful fire and explosion in Texas.
Of course, we all know that ammonium nitrate is highly explosive: people make bombs out of it. But it doesn\’t appear that the plant actually made or even stored that. It was a wholesaler for anhydrous ammonia. Which in itself isn\’t particularly an explosive danger.
So what happened?
Here\’s my best guess. There was a fire reported at the plant. Apparently it burned for an hour or so before the explosion. And here\’s the one thing you don\’t want to happen to anhydrous ammonia. That it be in a tank or enclosed space: and then it gets hot.
For it\’s NH3. And when it gets hot it becomes N2 plus H2……2NH3 becomes N2 + 3H2. And H2 is, as we know, highly explosive: that\’s what blew up the outer containment of the reactor at Fukushima.
On the very limited information we have at the moment that\’s my best guess. The fire warmed the storage tanks, disassociated (is that the right word?) the NH3 and thus there was a hydrogen explosion.