September 23, 2008 / 5:53 PM / 12 years ago

Honeywell finds alternative to explosive fertilizer

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Sept 23 (Reuters) - U.S. manufacturer Honeywell International Inc (HON.N) said on Tuesday it has found a way to make a safer alternative to ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that has been used as a material to make bombs.

The company said it has fused ammonium nitrate with ammonium sulfate to create a new dry nitrogen fertilizer that it hopes to gear to fruit, vegetable and nut tree producers.

“Ammonium nitrate ... is a very good fertilizer. Obviously, it has a lot of downsides because it’s a very good fuel source for explosives, and there have been terrorist activities in the past,” said Mark Murray, director of strategic marketing for Honeywell’s resins and chemicals business, in an interview.

Many fertilizer manufacturers and dealers stopped selling ammonium nitrate after it was used to make the bomb that killed 168 people in an Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. It has since been used in similar bombs around the world.

The fertilizer accounted for 6 percent of global nitrogen consumption in 2004-05, according to the International Fertilizer Association, down from 9 percent a decade earlier.

“Ammonium nitrate, for all practical purposes, is going to become extinct. It almost is there now,” said Bryan Hopkins, a researcher at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who tested the new fertilizer on crops in Idaho.

Hopkins said the Honeywell product works as well as ammonium nitrate and may be attractive for certain types of soils and crops, depending on how it is priced.

Honeywell is the largest U.S. producer of ammonium sulfate fertilizer, a byproduct of a plastic material it manufactures for use in nylon.

When company researchers tested the new fused product in explosions with fuel oil, they were “pleasantly surprised” to find it was inert, said Jim Kweeder, principal research engineer on the project, in a telephone interview.

The U.S. government is currently developing new fertilizer regulations, but Honeywell officials said they believe their new product will be exempt from many of the new safety rules.

Honeywell said it is in discussions with fertilizer manufacturers about licensing the technology.

The product holds promise for sandy soils, where other nitrogen fertilizers can wash away quickly, causing both economic and environmental problems, said Jack Rechcigl, director of University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, in an interview. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Galloway)

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