Structure, Properties and Uses of Ammonia Gas

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a distinct odor. It is a chemical building block and a significant component in the production of many everyday items. It is found naturally in the air, soil and water, as well as in plants and animals, including people. When the body breaks down protein-rich foods into amino acids, it produces ammonia. After that, the ammonia is transformed to urea. It’s worth noting that ammonia and the ammonium ion play a key role in a variety of vital metabolic processes in humans. Here we will discuss properties and uses of ammonia.

Further, ammonia also called azane which is formed when Hydrogen and Nitrogen react. It comes with a molecular formula NH3. It is highly soluble in water. Apart from that, Ammonia is the second most manufactured substance in quantity after sulphuric acid in the world.

What is ammonia?

Structure, Properties and Uses of Ammonia Gas


Ammonia is made up of two elements: hydrogen and nitrogen. It’s known as ammonium hydroxide in its aqueous state. This inorganic chemical emits a strong odor. It is hazardous and corrosive in its concentrated form. Density of ammonia is 0.769 kg/m3 and it is lighter than air. It’s a fertilizer that’s frequently used. It’s also utilized in the production of explosives like TNT and nitrocellulose. It’s also utilized in the manufacturing of soda ash and the Ostwald nitric acid process. Under pressure, ammonia gas compresses easily and creates a clear, colorless liquid. It’s commonly supplied in steel cylinders as a pressurized liquid. Although ammonia is not very flammable, it can explode when subjected to tremendous heat.

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Structure of ammonia

One nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms make up ammonia. Structure of ammonia is tetrahedral. Ammonia is used to make nitric acid, as a fertilizer and as a cleaning agent. Ammonia is a gas that has a pungent odor. NH3 is chemical formula of ammonia. A high concentration of ammonia can induce lung damage and death if inhaled. Its structure is shown below:

Structure, Properties and Uses of Ammonia Gas

How is ammonia formed?

Ammonia can be easily made in the laboratory by heating an ammonium salt, such as ammonium chloride NH4Cl with a strong alkali, such as sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide.

2NH4Cl + Ca(OH)2 → CaCl2 + 2H2O + 2NH3

Warming concentrated ammonium hydroxide can also produce it. The Haber process, which involves the direct mixing of nitrogen and hydrogen at high pressure in the presence of a catalyst, is the commercial technique of producing ammonia.

Is ammonia acidic or basic?

Any molecule that accepts a proton is referred to as a base, while any molecule that releases a proton is referred to as an acid. Because the nitrogen atom has an electron pair that readily takes a proton, ammonia is termed basic. In an aqueous solution, however, ammonia is categorized as a weak base, which is a chemical molecule that does not totally break apart into ions. Dissociation is the process of molecules breaking apart into ions. This changes the chemical structure of the compound, making it either a weak base or a strong acid, and vice versa.

Because it forms salts with several acids, ammonia is known to act as a weak base. Ammonia is transformed to ammonium chloride when it reacts with hydrochloric acid. The ammonium cation, represented by NH4+, is known to be present in all salts formed by such acid-base interactions. It’s worth noting that ammonia has some weak acidic properties and can thus be classified as an amphoteric chemical. Ammonia’s acidic properties allow it to produce amides with alkali metals and alkaline earth metals. When lithium is exposed to liquid ammonia, it produces lithium amide, which is a good example of this reaction.

Is ammonia soluble in water?

Structure, Properties and Uses of Ammonia Gas

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When the NH3 molecule is dissolved in water, it self-dissociates. The conjugate base NH2– and conjugate acid NH4+ are formed when the ammonia molecule undergoes molecular auto ionization. Ammonia is particularly soluble in water. The hydrogen bonding that occurs between the ammonia and water molecules is responsible for the comparatively high solubility. Ammonia dissolves in water to generate a basic solution. A little amount of dissolved ammonia combines with water to generate ammonium hydroxide, which then breaks down into ammonium and hydroxide ions. These are all reversible processes. Heating the system favors the opposite direction in both reactions.

NH3 + H2O ⇔ NH4OH ⇔ NH41+ + OH1-

Properties of ammonia

Physical properties of ammonia include its colorlessness and a harsh, pungent odor. It has a boiling temperature of -33.35 degrees Celsius and a freezing point of -77.7 degrees Celsius. It has a high heat of vaporization of 23.3 kilojoules per mole, and it can be handled as a liquid in thermally insulated laboratory containers. With three hydrogen atoms and an unshared pair of electrons connected to the nitrogen atom, the ammonia molecule exhibits a trigonal pyramidal form. Because of strong intermolecular hydrogen bonding, it is a polar molecule. Ammonia has a lower dielectric constant than water, making it a better solvent for organic compounds. It is, however, still high enough for ammonia to function as a fairly effective ionizing solvent. Ammonia self-ionizes as well, though to a lesser extent than water.

2NH3 ⇌ NH4+ + NH2

When it comes to chemical properties of ammonia, it is a nonflammable gas that will ignite at a temperature of 1204°F if the vapor concentration is between 15% and 28%. Galvanized metals, cast iron, copper, brass, and copper alloys are all corroded by ammonia. Steel is used for all ammonia pipelines, valves, tanks, and fittings.  When it comes into contact with oxygen, it produces nitrogen and water or nitrogen oxide and water. Ammonia in solution oxidizes to hydrazine, a caustic and volatile fuel component. When heated, the ammonium salts of oxidizing anions, such as nitrate, dichromate, and perchlorate, are unstable and can explode or detonate.

Ammonium perchlorate is a component of rocket fuels and ammonium nitrate is employed as a powerful explosive. A conical pile of ammonium dichromate is ignited and burns vigorously, releasing masses of green chromium oxide—the lava—in a famous artificial volcano demonstration.

The explosive brown solid nitrogen tri-iodide is created when ammonium hydroxide is heated with iodine crystals. When dried, this substance is so reactive that it will explode with a crackling sound and a plume of purple iodine vapor at the slightest touch.

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Uses of ammonia

There are versatile uses of ammonia, some of which are listed below:

  • Ammonia is used as a fertilizer because it boosts agricultural output.
  • It is used as a cleaner in the home since NH3 is mixed with water to clean stainless steel and glass. It’s a cleaning chemical that may be used to remove stains from mirrors, tubs, sinks and windows.
  • Cotton, wool, and silk are dyed using it, and it’s also used to scour them.
  • Uses of ammonia include manufacturing of some synthetic resins where it is used as a catalyst.
  • Acidic by-products of petroleum refining and the rubber sector are neutralized by it.
  • It keeps raw latex from clotting during transport from the plantation to the mill.
  • Ammonia is utilized in a variety of metallurgical operations, including hardening alloy sheets by nitriding them.
  • It’s an antibacterial agent that’s utilized in food.
  • It is utilized in the fermentation business as a refrigerant and in the fermentation process as a pH adjuster.
  • It’s also used to make liquid fertilizer solutions with substances like ammonium nitrate, salts, urea, and other ingredients.
  • Ammonia is commonly used as a preservative and antifungal agent on certain fruits.
  • One of the most important uses of ammonia is that it can be used as an antibacterial agent, antiseptic agent and fuel.
  • Ammonia is used to make a variety of products, including nitric acid, hydrogen cyanide, ammonium carbonate, phenol, urea, amino acids, and many others.
  • It is used to counteract pollutants released by diesel engines, such as nitrogen oxides.
  • Uses of ammonia include it as a rocket engine fuel.
  • It is utilized in the textile industry in the production of synthetic fibers such as rayon and nylon.
  • Ammonia is used in the manufacture of commercial explosives like trinitrotoluene [TNT], nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose.
  • Ammonia is a suitable portable source of atomic hydrogen for welding because it decomposes easily to produce hydrogen.
  • Ammonia can also absorb a significant amount of heat from its surroundings, making it useful as a coolant in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

Is ammonia dangerous?

Structure, Properties and Uses of Ammonia Gas

Although there are many uses of ammonia but it is not safe in some ways. The majority of people are exposed to ammonia by inhalation of this gas. Because ammonia occurs naturally and is also found in cleaning products, exposure from these sources is possible. Due to the extensive use of ammonia on farms, in industrial and commercial settings, exposure might occur as a result of an unintentional release or a purposeful terrorist strike.  Because ammonia gas is lighter than air and rises, it rarely settles in low-lying locations. Ammonia can create vapors that are heavier than air in the presence of moisture. These vapors have the potential to spread across the ground or other low-lying places. Ammonia reacts with water to form ammonium hydroxide when it enters the body through inhaling, ingesting or skin contact. This substance is extremely corrosive and damages bodily cells when it comes into touch with them.

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Hazards from ammonia can occur during production, usage, and transportation. Ammonia is a poisonous gas that occurs in air. When a liquid is under pressure, the risk of exposure increases because huge quantities have the ability to rapidly leak into the air. The expansion ratio of liquefied ammonia is around 850 to 1.

Accidental ammonia leaks and releases are possible, even though most facilities are designed to reduce the danger of an ammonia release by proper storage and handling. To detect indicators of gas leakage and take immediate action, monitoring equipment should be installed.  Additional safety precautions are required when transporting ammonia by road or rail.

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