About Nitrates

Nitrates are readily soluble in water at standard temperature and pressure; for this reason they are often used when a water soluble salt of a metal is needed. Many nitrates are used as agricultural fertilizers, as plants require the nitrogen they contain to develop and produce seeds. Lightning and radiation create nitrates in the atmosphere, and rain carries it to the ground. Chile's Atacama Desert is the world's leading supplier of the mineralized form of nitrates. Approximately 86 percent of nitrates produced in the United States is used for fertilizer, though the chemicals have other uses.

Some important inorganic nitrates are potassium nitrate (KNO3), sodium nitrate (NaNO3), and silver nitrate (AgNO3). Calcium nitrate is used in fertilizers; barium and strontium nitrates are used to color fireworks and signal flares; bismuth nitrate is used in making pharmaceuticals. Potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, is the key ingredient in gunpowder.