The two Iowa State University researchers who discovered a way to make anhydrous ammonia unusable as an ingredient in methamphetamine say it’s a classic scientific story. I-S-U chemistry professor John Verkade worked with fellow professor George Kraus to find that calcium nitrate is the key to rendering the plentiful farm fertilizer ineffective in making the illegal drug.
Verkade says, “This was an accidental discovery folks, and this is really what research is all about.” Verkade says they went in with an idea of what they thought would work, and that plan didn’t work. Verkade says they ended up trying a lot of things. Verkade says they had several metal compounds they were trying out, and all of them failed to do the job. He says they moved on to another group of compounds and both discovered at the same time that one of the compounds was very effective. Verkade says the accidental discovery proved to be a big breakthrough.
Verkade says they were elated to find the results and then send the product out for testing. He says corrosion was a big concern, but they found the product is not corrosive to the metal tanks that store anhydrous. Verkade says the calcium nitrate prevents the lithium used in the making of meth from being effective.
Verkade says lithium is a metal stolen from batteries that meth cookers dissolve into liquid ammonia to reduce pseudoephedrine into methamphetamine. He says the calcium nitrate causes the lithium to reduce so quickly that the lithium becomes ineffective in acting on the pseudoephedrine. Verkade says calcium nitrate is a plentiful chemical that already has a lot of other uses in agriculture.