Timothy McVeigh used common fertilizer to build the bomb that ripped into the Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, killing 167 innocent men, women, and especially children. By mixing ammonium nitrate with fuel oil, he created a homegrown brand of terrorism. Now a researcher in Kentucky is working to make sure this never happens again.

Down in the green, rolling hills and farmlands around Lexington, Kentucky, Darrell Taulbee can be found mixing up a batch of his homegrown fertilizer so he can make sure another Oklahoma bombing never happens again.

Ammonium nitrate (AN) is a fertilizer used to create bumper crops. But when combined with fuel oil (FO), it becomes ANFO, an explosive mixture of terrifying potential. The US produces and imports millions of tons of it every year. Taulbee is looking for ways to reduce the destructive power of AN.

He is eyeing coal combustion by-products’ fly ash from electric power plants (120 million tons are produced yearly at coal-burning power plants) to make AN less deadly. He coats AN pellets with fly-ash, packs them into metal canisters, and takes them deep into the Kentucky hills, where he blows them up. He works with retired FBI bomb-scene investigator Tom Thurman. Together, they have learned that a mix of 20% coal ash to 80% AN keeps an explosion from burning all its fuel, which renders a blast far less violent. And the US has more coal than we need.

Taulbee says, “There are no commercially available options totally effective in preventing ammonium nitrate from being used as an explosive. Coal ash won’t stop the blast from initiating, but it will stop it from propagating.” What’s more, the ash is non-toxic and may have some beneficial effects for crops.

Researcher Mike Matthews says, “If Taulbee can eliminate much of the ‘McVeigh’ factor in ammonium nitrate fertilizers, he’ll go a long way in helping to contain the threat of these homegrown fertilizer bombs.”

However, as our readers and listeners know, when it comes to our government, statements like this are almost always deeper than they seem. Just as ethanol is more of an attempt to use up our excess corn than to honestly search for a reliable biofuel, we may this fertilizer may be extolled by spokespeople not only because it is “bomb-proof,” but becasue it is ALSO a way to use up our excess coal.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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