A cheap way to alter ammonium nitrate fertilizer renders it unusable in IEDs.
Mixing iron sulfate, a waste product from steel foundries, with ammonium nitrate fertilizer leads to changes in its chemical composition that keep it from detonating in homemade bombs, say researchers at Sandia National Lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The researchers devised the formula in response to a request from the Department of Defense for ways to combat the use of improvised explosive devices.
Ammonium nitrate is commonly used to make powerful bombs in Afghanistan and other countries, and it was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
“One of Sandia’s priorities is deploying the technologies that result from our research for the public good,” said Pete Atherton, senior manager of industry partnerships at Sandia. “We think that making the fertilizer formula as accessible as possible is the best way to accomplish this mission.”
Replacing ammonium nitrate with a non-detonable fertilizer in Afghanistan and other parts of the world will not happen overnight, Fleming said. Ammonium nitrate is produced in huge plants in many locations. “It’s easy to get in large quantities,” he said. “The sheer volume of ammonium nitrate is gigantic.”
But he said there are some ideas about how to get the non-detonable formula, which would not cost more to produce, into the marketplace. “We could give the formula to a neutral party and let them work with the Afghans, Pakistanis and others,” he said. “They could set up side-by-side demonstrations to see which fertilizer works better. Prove it to them gradually.”