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1.(KNO3) used especially as a fertilizer and explosive
chose réduite en particules (fr)[ClasseParExt.]
swarf; dust; powder[Classe]
substance explosive (fr)[Classe]
matériau de construction (fr)[Classe]
qualificatif d'acide (fr)[DomaineDescription]
swarf; dust; powder[Classe]
chose transparente (fr)[ClasseParExt.]
matériau utilisé en maçonnerie (fr)[DomainDescrip.]
potassium nitrate (n.)
|Jmol-3D images||Image 1|
|Molar mass||101.1032 g/mol|
|Density||2.109 g/cm3 (16 °C)|
400 °C decomp.
|Solubility in water||133 g/L (0 °C)
383 g/L (25 °C)
2470 g/L (100 °C)
|Solubility||slightly soluble in ethanol
soluble in glycerol, ammonia
|Refractive index (nD)||1.5056|
|Crystal structure||Orthorhombic, Aragonite|
|EU Index||Not listed|
|EU classification||Oxidant (O)|
|Main hazards||Oxidant, Harmful if swallowed, Inhaled, or absorbed on skin. Causes Irritation to Skin and Eye area.|
|Other anions||Potassium nitrite|
|Other cations||Lithium nitrate
|Related compounds||Potassium sulfate
|Supplementary data page|
|n, εr, etc.|
Solid, liquid, gas
|Spectral data||UV, IR, NMR, MS|
| (what is: / ?)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
The earliest known complete purification process for potassium nitrate was outlined in 1270 by the chemist and engineer Hasan al-Rammah of Syria in his book al-Furusiyya wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya ('The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices'). In this book, al-Rammah describes first the purification of barud (crude saltpetre mineral) by boiling it with minimal water and using only the hot solution, then the use of potassium carbonate (in the form of wood ashes) to remove calcium and magnesium by precipation of their carbonates from this solution, leaving a solution of purified potassium nitrate, which could then be dried. This was used for the manufacture of gunpowder and explosive devices. The terminology used by al-Rammah indicated a Chinese origin for the gunpowder weapons about which he wrote. While potassium nitrate was called "Chinese snow" by Arabs, it was called "Chinese salt" by the Iranians/Persians.
Into the 19th century, niter-beds were prepared by mixing manure with either mortar or wood ashes, common earth and organic materials such as straw to give porosity to a compost pile typically 1.5×2×5 meters in size. The heap was usually under a cover from the rain, kept moist with urine, turned often to accelerate the decomposition, then finally leached with water after approximately one year, to remove the soluble calcium nitrate. Dung-heaps were a particularly common source: they contain ammonia from the decomposition of urea and other nitrogenous materials. It then undergoes bacterial oxidation (first by means of the Nitrosomonas bacteria) to produce (calcium) nitrite, and then (by means of the Spirobacter bacteria) to produce (calcium) nitrate. It is then converted to potassium nitrate by filtering through the potash of wood ashes.
A variation on this process, using only urine, straw and wood ash, is described by LeConte in 1862. Stale urine is placed in a container of straw and is allowed to "sour" (bacterially ferment) for many months, after which water is used to wash the resulting chemical salts from the straw. The process is completed by filtering the liquid through wood ashes, then air-drying in the sun. The nitrate source in this process is calcium nitrate produced by bacterial action on the nitrogenous urea and ammonia from urine, combined with calcium from urine. This calcium nitrate salt is converted again in the standard way to soluble potassium nitrate, using potassium carbonate from potash.
During this period, the major natural sources of potassium nitrate were the deposits crystallizing from cave walls and the accumulations of bat guano in caves. Traditionally, guano was the source used in Laos for the manufacture of gunpowder for Bang Fai rockets.
Potassium nitrates supplied the oxidant and much of the energy for gunpowder in the 19th century, but after 1889, small arms and large artillery increasingly began to depend on cordite, a smokeless powder which required in manufacture large quantities of nitric acid derived from mineral nitrates (either potassium nitrate, or increasingly sodium nitrate), and the basic industrial chemical sulfuric acid. These propellants, like all nitrated explosives (nitroglycerine, TNT, etc.) use the energy available when organic nitrates burn or explode and are converted to nitrogen gas, a process that releases large amounts of energy.
From 1903 until the World War I era, potassium nitrate for black powder and fertilizer was produced on an industrial scale from nitric acid produced via the Birkeland–Eyde process, which used an electric arc to oxidize nitrogen from the air. During World War I the newly industrialized Haber process (1913) was combined with the Ostwald process after 1915, allowing Germany to produce nitric acid for the war after being cut off from its supplies of mineral sodium nitrates from Chile (see nitratite). The Haber process catalyzes ammonia production from atmospheric nitrogen, and industrially produced hydrogen. From the end of World War I until today, practically all organic nitrates have been produced from nitric acid from the oxidation of ammonia in this way. Some sodium nitrate is still mined industrially. Almost all potassium nitrate, now used only as a fine chemical, is produced from basic potassium salts and nitric acid.
Potassium nitrate can also be produced by neutralizing nitric acid with potassium hydroxide. This reaction is highly exothermic.
Potassium nitrate has an orthorhombic crystal structure at room temperature, which transforms to a trigonal system at 129 °C. Upon heating to temperatures above 560 °C, it decomposes into potassium nitrite, generating oxygen:
Potassium nitrate is moderately soluble in water, but its solubility increases with temperature (see infobox). The aqueous solution is almost neutral, exhibiting pH 6.2 at 14 °C for a 10% solution of commercial powder. It is not very hygroscopic, absorbing about 0.03% water in 80% relative humidity over 50 days. It is insoluble in alcohol and is not poisonous; it can react explosively with reducing agents, but it is not explosive on its own.
||This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2012)|
Potassium nitrate has a wide variety of uses, largely as a source of nitrate.
Potassium nitrate is an efficient oxidizer, producing a lilac-colored flame upon burning due to the presence of potassium. It is one of the three components of black powder, along with powdered charcoal (substantially carbon) and sulfur, both of which act as fuels in this composition. As such it is used in black powder rocket motors, but also in combination with other fuels like sugars in "rocket candy". It is also used in fireworks such as smoke bombs, made with a mixture of sucrose and potassium nitrate. It is also added to pre-rolled cigarettes to maintain an even burn of the tobacco and is used to ensure complete combustion of paper cartridges for cap and ball revolvers.
In the process of food preservation, potassium nitrate has been a common ingredient of salted meat since the Middle Ages, but its use has been mostly discontinued due to inconsistent results compared to more modern nitrate and nitrite compounds. Even so, saltpeter is still used in some food applications, such as charcuterie and the brine used to make corned beef. Sodium nitrate (and nitrite) have mostly supplanted potassium nitrate's culinary usage, as they are more reliable in preventing bacterial infection than saltpetre. All three give cured salami and corned beef their characteristic pink hue. When used as a food additive in the European Union, the compound is referred to as E252; it is also approved for use as a food additive in the USA and Australia and New Zealand (where it is listed under its INS number 252).
Potassium nitrate was once thought to induce impotence, and is still falsely rumored to be in institutional food (such as military fare) as an anaphrodisiac; however, there is no scientific evidence for such properties.