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Newly discovered molecule could lead to more efficient rocket fuel

Researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden report the discovery of trinitramid—N(NO2)3—a new molecule in the nitrogen oxide group that may become a component in future rocket fuel. This fuel could be 20-30% more efficient in comparison with the best rocket fuels we have today.

A paper on their work has been accepted for publication in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

A rule of thumb is that for every ten-percent increase in efficiency for rocket fuel, the payload of the rocket can double. What’s more, the molecule consists only of nitrogen and oxygen, which would make the rocket fuel environmentally friendly. This is more than can be said of today’s solid rocket fuels, which entail the emission of the equivalent of 550 tons of concentrated hydrochloric acid for each launch of the space shuttle.

—Tore Brinck, professor of physical chemistry at KTH

Trinitramid
Trinitramid. Click to enlarge.

It was during work to find an alternative to today’s solid rocket fuel that the researchers found the new molecule. The team was studying the breakdown of another compound using quantum chemistry computations when they understood that the new molecule trinitramid—the largest of the nitrogen oxides—could be stable.

Brinck and colleagues Martin Rahm, Sergey Dvinshikh and Professor Istvan Furó have now shown how the molecule can be produced and analyzed. The scientists have also managed to produce enough of the compound in a test tube for it to be detectable.

It remains to be seen how stable the molecule is in a solid form.

—Tore Brinck

Resources

  • Martin Rahm, Sergey V. Dvinskikh, István Furó, Tore Brinck. Experimental Detection of Trinitramide, N(NO2)3. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, accepted paper

Comments

richard schumacher

The advent of Green Rocket Car Congress. Woo!

Presumably by "efficiency" in this context they mean specific impulse (Isp)? That is not obviously so because the N2 molecule is more massive than one would like for rocket exhaust. In any case there is far more to the economical operation of a launcher than Isp alone.

Engineer-Poet

The oxidizer for a hybrid rocket can be 100% oxygen: O2. The stability of the molecule is not an issue, and it's already available in industrial quantities for pennies a pound.

kelly

"It remains to be seen how stable the molecule is in a solid form." interesting side note.

ai_vin

I know that N2O is used as an oxidizer in rocketry but here they are talking about N(NO2)3 as a "fuel."

Damn, I wish I could find something more about this on the web but all I'm finding are repeats of the text in this article.

sd

This is a bit off-subject unless we are going to have rocket propelled cars. Anyway, the common solid fuel rockets use ammonium perchlorate (NH4ClO4) as an oxidizer and use powdered aluminum and an elastomeric binder as fuel. What I think that they are suggesting is to replace the ammonium perchlorate with trinitramid—N(NO2)3. The "fuel" would still be the elastomeric binder and powdered aluminum. The solid fuels are not as energetic as hydrogen and oxygen but there are much easier to store.

ToppaTom

I assume they mean as a monopropellant, like hydrogen peroxide.

"It remains to be seen how stable the molecule is in a solid form." Is indeed an interesting side note and confirms that they may not use the oxygen as an oxidizer at all (as with hydrogen peroxide).

And I also think that “In any case there is far more to the economical operation of a launcher than Isp alone.”

Engineer-Poet

If you want a monopropellant, hydrazine yields a much lower MW exhaust and higher Isp than something composed soley of nitrogen and oxygen.

The only reason to have oxygen is to use it to oxidize something, releasing energy. The only reason to use trinitramid is as a chlorine-free substitute for other solid oxidizers.

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