Ammonium carbonate, scientific formula (NH4)2CO3, is an inorganic white, crystalline powder composed of ammonium carbamate and ammonium bicarbonate. One method of production involves sending carbon dioxide gas into liquid ammonium and collecting the crystallized vapors from the chemical reaction. Ammonium carbonate’s functions span the medical, industrial, chemical production and cooking industries.
Food-grade ammonium carbonate, also called hartshorn and baking ammonia, is used as leavening in certain baked goods, such as bread and cookies. It doesn’t give the food an aftertaste like baking powder, a substitute for ammonium carbonate, or baking soda might.
However, dough mixed with ammonium carbonate gives off a smell of ammonium while baking, and the raw dough cannot be eaten. Also, unless it is stored in an airtight container, ammonium carbonate will evaporate.
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Ammonium carbonate is used as a smelling salt, which is a respiratory stimulant. A smelling salt irritates the lungs and the nose, which makes the lungs react to breathe. This make the lungs work faster.
Sports players are known to use smelling salts to enhance their playing. However, according to P. McCrory in the August 2006 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, smelling salts should not be the only method used to improve peoples’ awareness when they have sustained head injuries, as head injuries should be examined carefully as they may be more serious than they initially seem.
Historical Industrial Uses
According to “Henley's Twentieth Century Book of Formulas, Recipes and Processes” ammonium carbonate can be combined with other chemicals to form useful substances. One such substance that ammonium carbonate is included in is a formula for fireproofing loose-weave clothing.
Ammonium carbonate is also used in the creation of explosives for use in mines that have released hydrocarbon gasses, as it lowers the temperature of the explosion.
Agricultural Potential Use
Phosphate runoff from agricultural practices is causing what is known as cultural eutrophication, which is the death of lake life due to an overabundance of nutrition. According a study published by Vijay Yanamadala in the November-December 2005 issue of Water Environment Research, it was found that filters made with ammonium carbonate worked well to bind phosphate.