Materials research - A safer explosive

Sep 26, 2012

Research on new explosives focuses on improving safety during production and reducing levels of environmental toxicity. LMU chemists have synthesized a new compound, which is less toxic, more stable and more powerful than conventional explosives.

he chemical compound cyclotrimethylene trinitramine – better known as hexogen or RDX – was developed more than a century ago and was incorporated into pharmaceutical preparations, among other things. Hexogen is now the most widely used explosive in military ordnance, and is often employed in combination with other substances. In humans, RDX causes kidney damage and is known to have mutagenic effects in earthworms.

Reduced toxicity
LMU chemist Professor Thomas Klapötke and his colleagues therefore set out to design and synthesize a substitute for hexogen and, with TKX-50, they have come up with a compound that fulfills all the performance criteria defined at the outset. TKX-50 is less toxic to the airways, and poses less of a health risk than RDX if inhaled. Moreover, it is mechanically and thermally at least as stable as hexogen itself, making it less likely to detonate when exposed to high temperatures or sudden shocks. It is thus safer to handle, and it is significantly more powerful, than RDX.

“We were surprised by its very low sensitivity to mechanical shock in comparison with RDX,” Klapötke remarks. “Indeed, in this respect, TKX-50 is superior not only to hexogen but also to the secondary explosive octogen or HMX.” In addition, its performance parameters, such as the detonation velocity and the blast pressure, significantly exceed those of RDX or HMX. The new explosive has already been patented and is now being produced on a larger scale, in order to test its properties when combined with other substances and explore its suitability for a range of possible applications.

(Journal of Materials Chemistry, 2012, 38)