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Unstable Compound Used in Takata Airbags

Demetria Ratchford2 years ago

Since 1995 there have been concerns over Takata using ammonium nitrate, an inexpensive but unstable compound, in its airbags.

Takata Begins Using Ammonium Nitrate in Airbags

In June of 1995, a patent application filed by Takata stated that ammonium nitrate was so vulnerable to temperature changes that it’s casing, under excessive pressure, “might even blow up”. 

According to the New York Times, the compound is believed to have played a role in airbag ruptures that are linked to five deaths and dozens of injuries. Despite this, Takata believed that they could stabilize the compound, and even began to use ammonium nitrate to generate the gases to inflate the airbag in 2001.

In 2014, Takata has become the main focus of a growing global crisis, with more than 16 million vehicles worldwide from 11 automakers recalled due to violent airbag explosions when they deploy.

Takata Has Long History of Struggling with Airbag Compound

The chief quality officer of Takate Hiroshi Shimizu claims that the ammonium nitrate is safe, contradicting the patent application filed by Takata in December 2013 that pointed to concerns over the compound’s vulnerability to moisture and changes in temperature.

Patent documents such as this one and others from as late as the mid-1990s suggest that Takata has been well aware of the risks associated with using ammonium nitrate as a propellant for airbags, yet they have not fixed these fundamental problems.

Although ammonium nitrate is beneficial because it is not toxic and does not generate harmful fumes, it has low temperature stability, and “is generally impractical for most manufacturing situations”. Takata continues to try and fix the problems associated with the compound, and currently has an application patent still pending from December 2013. 

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