Heard of TNT, nitroglycerine and Semtex? What do they have in common? If you are not really familiar with chemicals, the one compound that is present in these or is a derivative of – is nitric acid.
Nitric acid is extremely harmful. It is highly corrosive, strongly reactive, a powerful oxidizer and a poison. As a matter of fact, the material safety data sheet states that it has an extreme health rating of 4 which means it is a poison; a severe reactivity rating of 3 due to its strong oxidizing properties; and an extreme contact rating of 4 which signifies its corrosive capacities.
Nonetheless, it is also because of these properties which make this acid very valuable in many various applications. It is very important in esterification and nitration processes of organic substances as well as in the manufacture of fertilizers, plastics, dyes, nitrates, sulfuric acid, and as mention earlier, explosives. It is also widely used in the water treatment, reprocessing of used nuclear fuels as well as cleaning and plating of metal surfaces.
Nitric Acid In Fertilizers
Ammonium nitrate, an excellent fertilizer component, is made by mixing ammonia and nitric acid. It is one of the basic chemical ingredients in the fertilizer industry. As a matter of fact, approximately 80% of the chemical is used for fertilizer production.
However, excessive use of fertilizers and their runoff results to eutrophication of our waterways causes environmental degradation and poses a huge threat to plant and animal life. Eutrophication is the nutrient overload in bodies of water which trigger algal blooms and other plants to grown out of control. This phenomenon uses up almost all available dissolved oxygen in the water while robbing other plants and animals of oxygen.
Nitric Acid As Cleaning Agent
Because of its strong acidic properties, it is used for serious and deep cleaning processes such as those in the food, pharmaceuticals, health, and industrial cleaning. However, also due to the fact that this same compound is highly corrosive and highly hazardous, its application as a cleaning agent must be handled with extreme caution.
In brewery, it is used to remove inorganic deposits and beerstone. This ternary acid also has effective antimicrobial properties even when used in more stable, less dangerous solutions with phosphoric acid. It is also used to clean ICP-MS cones in glass making but proper attention must be given in the concentration of the acid in the cleaning solution. Also, the frequency could be as seldom as once a month to avoid corrosion of the metals.
Nitric Acid In Explosives
Nitric acid is extremely reactive and, in it pure form, can be very unstable. Trinitrotoluene (TNT) and nitroglycerin are two very explosive derivatives of nitric acid.
TNT is the result of three nitrogen dioxide groups added to toluene. It contains stable and strongly bonded carbon, oxygen and nitrogen compound so that when it is ignited, it releases a lot of energy. And as a result of this closely grouped together nitro groups, TNT is an unstable chemical.
Nitroglycerin, on the other hand, is the nitric acid triester of glycerol. Same as TNT, a glycerin molecule has three nitrate groups bonded to a hydrocarbon fragment. This more common used in the production of dynamite and in its full strength is comparable to more powerful explosives developed today such as C-4 and RDX.
This acid is a very dangerous chemical although it can be quite stable when handled properly and stored in safe conditions. Always follow label directions and practice safety measures when dealing with nitric acid. Despite its explosive, corrosive and strongly reactive capacities, it is a key chemical in many industrial applications precisely because of these very same properties.