Reducing Explosive Risks in Fertilizer Manufacturing with Aegex Technologies

Reducing Explosive Risks in Fertilizer Manufacturing with Aegex Technologies


Fertilizer plants use highly volatile ingredients, such as ammonium nitrate to manufacture various fertilizers. Stringent safety regulations are imposed on fertilizer manufacturing processes to lower the risk of plant explosions and chemical fires.

Despite these rules and regulations, explosion incidences in fertilizer plants still occur, resulting in life-long injuries, several fatalities, and massive property damage. Available industry reports estimate that there have been at least 17 unintended fertilizer plant explosions in the U.S. since 1921, with the latest occurring in 2022 at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Fortunately, digitization tools like those provided by Aegex Technologies can help reduce explosion risks in fertilizer manufacturing environments by enhancing monitoring and detection and improving process control. This blog discusses how digitization can reduce the risks of explosions and fires in fertilizer manufacturing.

How Do Explosions Occur in Fertilizer Factories?

Fertilizer factories use ammonium nitrate in their typical manufacturing processes. Under normal circumstances, this chemical is harmless and is often added to improve a fertilizer's nitrogen content. However, ammonium nitrate can quickly turn deadly if it comes into contact with an ignition source that triggers a devastating explosion.

The explosive force occurs when solid ammonium nitrate decomposes rapidly to form nitrous oxide gas and water. Here are some specific conditions that can trigger an explosion in fertilizer plants:
  • Extreme heat: Ammonium nitrate is a fickle element that can decompose and become more unstable when exposed to heat. If the temperature rises significantly, the chemical will undergo a thermal decomposition reaction. This process releases oxygen that could lead to a rapid combustion or explosion when mixed with a fuel source. This is why a fire source at a fertilizer plant is a potential catastrophe.
  • Contamination: If ammonium nitrate is contaminated with combustible materials like fuel, oil, and other organic substances, it becomes extremely sensitive to ignition. For this reason, it's advisable to store and handle fertilizer separately from these materials.

The Role of Digitization in Curbing Explosive Risk in Fertilizer Manufacturing Processes

The digitization tools designed for Zone 1 industrial environments make detecting, monitoring, and preventing explosive hazards in fertilizer manufacturing processes easy. The digitization tools offered by Aegex Technologies, such as the NexVu IoT, are equipped with best-in-class features, like image and video-based applications for detecting and monitoring explosive gas concentrations in the air.

Additionally, modern digitization devices, such as the Aegex 100M Intrinsically Safe Tablet, help prevent the ignition of flammable substances by eliminating any potential ignition sources within the device itself. Here are some of the ways digitization with the right tools can help curb explosive risks in your fertilizer plant.

Allows for Real-Time Monitoring and Control

Digital sensors and systems can provide real-time data about the various aspects of the manufacturing process, including chemical composition, humidity, pressure, and temperature. The data can be analyzed to detect any abnormal conditions in the fertilizer manufacturing process that could give rise to explosions.

A case in point is Aegex's NexVu IoT solution, a cutting-edge tool equipped with real-time detection features designed to identify the presence of explosive hazards in the air as soon as they become airborne. It features advanced data analytics and machine learning algorithms that can predict potential risks and anomalies in the manufacturing process. By analyzing historical data and identifying patterns, these systems can issue early warnings, allowing operators to take corrective measures that alleviate the situation.

Remote Monitoring in Hazardous Locations

Digitization enables remote monitoring of critical equipment and processes in highly perilous fertilizer manufacturing environments, where it may not be safe to deploy human workers. In the event of a potential explosion risk, automated shutdown systems can trigger instantly. These systems can cut off the flow of materials, shut down equipment, and isolate hazardous areas to prevent accidents from escalating.

Asset Management and Predictive Maintenance

The best performance of machines and equipment is crucial in preventing explosions in fertilizer manufacturing facilities. Operators should ensure all equipment and machines are regularly inspected and serviced to limit frictions that may generate excessive heat that triggers sparks and explosions. Specifically, workers should regularly lubricate machining parts, such as bearings and seals, to ensure best and safest performance.

Digital asset management systems can track the equipment's condition and ensure its proper maintenance. Regular maintenance reduces the likelihood of machine failures that could lead to explosions. Aegex digital solutions can monitor and capture the performance of critical manufacturing equipment in real time. These devices integrate with IoT to enable real-time data transmission to a centralized system for analysis. Once analyzed, operators can use the data to predict when equipment will likely fail or require maintenance.

Training and Simulations

Regular training of the critical workforce is crucial to curbing explosive risks in fertilizer manufacturing. Training equips employees with valuable knowledge to identify potential hazards, mitigate risks, and prevent explosions from occurring. Digitization solutions, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, can train operators in a safe and controlled environment. Training improves their knowledge of safety procedures and emergency response, reducing the likelihood of human error.

Enhance Your Safety With Aegex Intrinsically Safe Solutions

Fertilizer plant explosions are not new to the U.S. Unfortunately, these incidences leave catastrophic impacts in their wake, including severe injuries, fatalities, and property damage. Aegex provides intrinsically safe solutions for industries with hazardous environments, such as fertilizer factories.

Our tools can ensure real-time detection and monitoring of hazardous element buildup in the manufacturing and storage processes. These tools are rugged to resist physical impacts, vibration, and other environmental factors, reducing the risk of device malfunction that could lead to sparks.