Lately, there have been numerous reports pertaining to terrorist groups using fertilizer bombs. What’s peculiar about these fertilizer bombs is that they are relatively harder to make than other types of bombs. However, the ingredients and parts that are needed to create it are much cheaper, and its lower cost could be the reason why terrorists are opting to build fertilizer bombs. So, what are the ingredients found in a fertilizer bomb? And how does mixing them create an explosion? Let us find out as we dig deeper into the intricacies of the fertilizer bomb.
What is the key ingredient in a fertilizer bomb?
The main ingredient used in fertilizer bombs is ammonium nitrate. It is a somewhat unstable chemical that would often degrade violently, turning it from solid to gas in an instant. Some ingredients that are needed to create other bombs, such as nitric acid that is needed to make explosive like TNT (trinitrotoluene), is also derived from oxidized ammonia.
Now, it is a known fact that ammonium nitrate cannot explode on its own, and its ability to explode is dependent on the type of fertilizer where it is found. It is almost impossible to find the purest form of ammonium nitrate commercially, and even if a person were able to get a container filled with the purest form of the chemical, it still wouldn’t be enough to cause an explosion.
In order for the fertilizer to explode, it would need two things: a fuel and a detonator. The fertilizer would need to be mixed with the fuel at an equal ratio, and then the concoction should be combined with a detonator that has the ability to create or generate enough energy to create an explosion.
How does a fertilizer bomb explode?
The first thing that explodes in the fertilizer bomb is the detonator. The detonator will be the one that dictates how much power the fertilizer and the fuel would have when they explode afterward. So, if the detonator’s blast is not powerful enough, it may not be sufficient for both the fuel and the fertilizer to explode.
The detonator must have an explosive compound inside it, although it would only need a small amount. When that explosive compound discharges, the detonator will create a detonation wave. The wave is estimated to have a speed of 2 or 3 miles per second, which is sufficient to ignite the ammonium nitrate and fuel and make them explode.
If the detonation wave were able to produce incredible power, the fuel, and the ammonium nitrate would be completely evaporated. If they are solid or liquid, they will both turn into gas in just a few milliseconds. When the molecules found in the ammonium nitrate break down, it would result in the formation of oxygen that helps amplify the fertilizer bomb’s blast. In addition, the oxygen that is released in the area of the explosion is what actually created the blast, as the creation of oxygen through the breaking down of the ammonium nitrate happens so suddenly that it will produce a massive shockwave. The production of oxygen is so sudden that the waves it creates in the area of explosion travel at the speed of light. Experts say that the damage done by fertilizer bombs is not actually from the fire that they create but the shockwaves.
However, if the detonator doesn’t produce sufficient power to create an ample detonation wave, both the fuel and the ammonium nitrate would only burn and not explode. Because the right amount of fuel, ammonium nitrate, and the explosive compound are needed to be combined in order to create a powerful explosion, it could be said that fertilizer bombs can be quite difficult to make.
It is believed that some terrorist groups were able to get pure ammonium nitrate that altering the formula of household fertilizers, which are found in almost all hardware or gardening stores. However, if the ammonium nitrate in these fertilizers is mixed with other chemicals, its explosive properties would be eradicated. Investigators are currently finding out how several terrorist groups were able to create fertilizer bombs using household items.
Because explosions caused by fertilizers are still considered rare until today, there are currently no further studies as to how the purest form of ammonium nitrate can be obtained. The biggest fertilizer explosion that occurred in history is actually not caused by a bomb but by a gigantic fertilizer that exploded because it has come into contact with a detonator. This incident was the explosion of a fertilizer plant in Oppau, Germany, in 1921. According to investigations, the explosion occurred when several workers were trying to clear up a large hill made up of solidified fertilizer using dynamite. Because the dynamite acted as the detonator to the ammonium nitrate found in the solidified fertilizer, it caused a massive explosion that killed more than 400 people in the plant.