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Ammonium sulfate, denoted by the chemical formula (NH4)2SO4, is an inorganic salt with various industrial applications. However, careful handling is recommended due to potential hazards to human health. Its primary function lies in agriculture, where it serves as a fertilizer containing 21% nitrogen and 24% sulfur. In its natural form, ammonium sulfate appears as the mineral mascagnite, a relatively scarce substance found in volcanic fumaroles and coal fire dumps.
Ammonium sulfate is manufactured by a method that entails the reaction of ammonia with sulfuric acid, as illustrated by the chemical equation:
2NH3 + H2SO4 → (NH4)2SO4
Alternatively, another approach to producing ammonium sulfate includes adding gypsum salt to a solution of ammonium carbonate. This chemical reaction leads to the generation of calcium carbonate and ammonium sulfate as end products. The calcium carbonate forms a precipitate, separating from the mixture and leaving a solution containing ammonium sulfate.
Ammonium sulfate functions as an acidity regulator in flour and bread within the food industry. The food-grade version of ammonium sulfate has been deemed safe by both the US FDA and the European Union.
In agriculture, ammonium sulfate serves as a fertilizer for crops grown in alkaline soil. Its introduction to alkaline soil releases ammonium ions, slightly acidifying the soil and reducing its pH, while also acting as a nitrogen source to enhance plant growth.
Within horticulture, ammonium sulfate acts as a spray adjuvant for water-soluble insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Its role involves binding iron and calcium cations present in the water.
Ammonium sulfate plays a crucial role in analytical applications, particularly in purifying proteins through selective precipitation or salting out. This method aids in separating complex protein mixtures.
Significantly, ammonium sulfate is identified as an ingredient in numerous US vaccines by the Centre for Disease Control.