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Toward Safer Anhydrous Ammonia

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 10:14am
Associated Press

STANTON, N.D. (AP) — An effective but dangerous pressurized gas known as anhydrous ammonia has been used for years to deliver nitrogen to soil and crops. But a safer delivery method that uses dry pellets is becoming an increasingly popular alternative, and a North Dakota company is trying to capitalize on the farming change, the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1pjL9cu ) reported.

Farmers are making a gradual switch from anhydrous to urea mainly out of safety concerns. Anhydrous ammonia is one of the most potentially dangerous chemicals used in farming. It has a pungent gas with suffocating fumes and has been used as a fertilizer for years.

While anhydrous is cheaper, handling it is a challenge. It requires annual inspections and forces drivers transporting it to slow down to 25 mph. Urea, on the other hand, is easier to haul and can be transported at up to 30 mph.

"It's so difficult in North Dakota with the farm labor shortage and you don't want to put just anybody behind the wheel," said Ron Berg, an agronomist at Beulah Farmer's Union chemical plant.

The newspaper reported that the switch has pushed Dakota Gasification Co., to build the first-ever urea plant in North Dakota. The company is spending $402 million on the facility.

About 750 workers are expected to start the site's construction in the spring, and the first shipments of urea are expected to come out of the plant in 2017.

"From 2015 to 2016, we'll be going right on through. It's an aggressive schedule," said Jim Greer, head of the project.

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