A New Clean Fuel For Spaceships

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Hydrazine, with an oxidizing agent like nitric acid or dinitrogen tetroxide-  are the fuel of satellite, spacecraft and rockets- of course the nitric acid and dinitrogen tetroxide are very toxic.

The journal Angewandte Chemie has published a new approach for Stefan Schneider and his co-workers at the Air Force Laboratory (Edwards Air Force Base, USA).  They have reached a  special hydrogen-rich ionic liquids that self-ignite in the presence of hydrogen peroxide.

Despite the potential danger, hydrazine is used as a rocket fuel because it delivers high performance, can be stored for a relatively long time, and spontaneously ignites upon contact with an oxidizing agent or a suitable catalyst. The oxidizing agents used as rocket fuels are also dangerous. Dinitrogen tetroxide is less corrosive than nitric acid, but it is toxic and highly volatile. Hydrogen peroxide is a promising alternative because it is less corrosive and leads to much less toxic gas at room temperature. Its decomposition produces only water and oxygen.As an alternative to hydrazine as a fuel component, Schneider and his co-workers propose an ionic liquid. Ionic liquids are compounds that consist of ions, namely positive and negatively charged particles, like a salt. However, they are not crystalline; they remain “molten” as a liquid at room temperature. Ionic liquids essentially do not vaporize, which prevents the formation of toxic vapors. It has previously not been possible to produce an ionic liquid that is flammable when partnered with hydrogen peroxide.Schneider and his team have now overcome this barrier. The positively charged ion of their ionic liquid is a phosphorus atom bound to four hydrocarbon chains. At the core, however, lies the negatively charged ion made from one aluminum, four boron, and sixteen hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen-rich composition raises the power of the fuel component. In order to test the ignitibility, the researchers applied drops of the novel ionic liquid onto various oxidizing agents. Upon contact with hydrogen peroxide, ignition was nearly instant; with fuming nitric acid it exploded.

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