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Engineers at Sandia Natl Labs Develop New Fertilizer That Can't Detonate Explosives

Randy Montoya

Engineers at Sandia National Labs have developed a new fertilizer that can not be used as a chemical component in an explosive. The new fertilizer could have the potential to save lives while serving as a highly effective plant food.

Amonium Nitrate, is a compound found in most fertilizers. It’s an agricultural staple, but it’s also a commonly used ingredient in many improvised explosive devices from Oklahoma City to Afghanistan.  

Kevin Fleming, a retired Sandia Engineer who’s trained US soldiers to avoid improvised explosive devices, says he's developed a new type of fertilizer by combining iron sulfate with amonium nitrate. He says it's just as good as traditional formulas, just without the explosive potential.

"And I thought well, if you can make ammonium nitrate, I wonder if there’s a way that you can unmake ammonium nitrate. Kind of think of it as sort of a magnet holding them together, so they’re sort of susceptible for other chemicals to go in there and basically change it into something different, more specifically something that wouldn’t detonate."

For humanitarian reasons, Fleming says Sandia Labs has opted not to patent the formula, and does not anticipate marketing the product in the near future.