Safer Energetic Materials

By: Regina Ramazzini

Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory have developed energetic materials that are capable of delivering powerful explosive energy, yet demonstrate unprecedented improvements for safer storage, handling, transportation and operation. INL investigators are also working to increase the safety of ignition devices to ensure energetics detonate only when required.

Energetic materials designed to explode and/or burn on demand are widely used for military, industrial and police purposes. However, many of these materials and the devices used to ignite them are relatively unstable and prone to unintended ignition by low-energy sources such as static electricity (electrostatic discharge), fire, friction or shock. Their use entails considerable risk, not only to primary users, but also to transporters and the public. Powdered composite energetic materials (containing a metal (fuel) plus an oxide (oxidizer)) are effective for a wide variety of applications, but their potential for unintended detonation due to electrostatic discharge or exposure to unintentional fire, as well as their unstable form, make their use challenging and dangerous. INL Scientists have developed a patented method of producing and handling these materials that substantially reduces their sensitivity to electrostatic discharge by adding carbon nanotubes to the mixture, reducing conductivity by almost 10 orders of magnitude without affecting ignition by intentional means. Experiments show that when voltage is applied to materials containing nano-fillers, the materials will not ignite. Current travels through the nanofillers, bypassing the energetic material and preventing it from heating and igniting. The energetic material remains fully responsive to normal ignition methods.

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