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Sodium nitrate is the chemical compound with the formula NaNO3. This salt, also known as "Chile saltpeter" or "Peru saltpeter" (to distinguish it from ordinary saltpeter, potassium nitrate), is a white solid which is very soluble in water. The mineral form is also known as nitratine or soda niter.

Sodium nitrate is used as an ingredient in fertilizers, pyrotechnics, as a food preservative, and as a solid rocket propellant, as well as in glass and pottery enamels; the compound has been mined extensively for those purposes.

The mining of South American saltpeter was such a profitable business that Chilemarker fought against the allies Perumarker and Boliviamarker and took over the richest deposits in the War of the Pacific. The world's largest natural deposits of caliche ore were in the Atacamamarker desert of Chilemarker, and many deposits were mined for over a century, until the 1940s, when its value declined dramatically in the first decades of the twentieth century (see Haber process).

Chile still has the largest reserves of caliche, with active mines in such locations as Pedro de Valdivia, Maria Elena and Pampa Blanca, and there it used to be called "white gold". Sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sodium sulfate and iodine are all obtained by the processing of caliche. The former Chilean saltpeter mining communities of Humberstone and Santa Lauramarker were declared Unesco World Heritage sites in 2005.

Sodium nitrate is also synthesized industrially by neutralizing nitric acid with soda ash.

Applications

Sodium nitrate was used extensively as a fertilizer and a raw material for the manufacture of gunpowder in the late nineteenth century. Sodium nitrate has antimicrobial properties when used as a food preservative. It is found naturally in leafy green vegetables. It can also be combined with iron hydroxide to make a resin.

Sodium nitrate should not be confused with the related compound, sodium nitrite.

It can be used in the production of nitric acid by combining it with sulfuric acid and subsequent separation through fractional distillation of the nitric acid, leaving behind a residue of sodium bisulfate. Hobbyist gold refiners use sodium nitrate to make a hybrid aqua regia that dissolves gold and other metals.

Less common applications include its use as a substitute oxidizer used in fireworks as a replacement for potassium nitrate commonly found in black powder and as a component in instant cold packs.

Because sodium nitrate can be used as a Phase Change Material it may be used for heat transfer in solar power plants.

It is also used in the wastewater industry for the faculative microrganisms respiration. The growth of nitrosomines will use the nitrate instead of oxygen to breath easier.

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