Army pyrotechnic experts find safer alternative for green fireworks

Apr 11, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Army pyrotechnic experts find non-toxic alternative for green fireworks
Image: Linus Gelber/Flickr

( -- For years, the U.S. army and many other agencies around the world have been using hand-held green light-emitting signal flares; flares which are very nearly indispensable under certain adverse conditions. The problem is, the flares contain barium, a toxic metal that can build up quickly on training grounds. Barium is also the ingredient used in fireworks to make them glow green, which creates a problem for places such as Disneyworld that shoot off fireworks every night.

Enter Jesse Sabatini and his colleagues at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey; they were tasked by the U.S. army with finding an alternative to barium that would work just as well but wouldn’t cost any more. After working first with the powdery form of the pure element boron, which they knew when burned would produce boron oxide and in the process green light, they began investigating other boric substances because of the high cost and tendency of the pure stuff to burn too quickly. Eventually, after some research they hit upon the idea of using a ceramic already widely used as a plating material due to its extreme hardness. They found that it could be burned in its pure state and would produce green light just as well as barium and at nearly the same cost and have published their findings in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The team’s findings come as a bit of a surprise to many in the chemistry field due to the fact that boron carbide has traditionally been considered highly inert (not chemically active).

In addition to eliminating the toxicity problem of using barium in flares, switching to boron carbide would also help reduce the dispersal of polychlorinated biphenyls since the current flares also contain a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) component, a very well known toxic agent that has been in the news as a pollutant for decades.
The U.S. army, which uses flares as both a means of illumination and to simulate battlefield explosions, stands to benefit dramatically by this new finding as it now spends a significant amount of money just cleaning up the toxic leftovers of its current flares.

It also seems likely based on the results of this new research that boron carbide will also soon replace in as well, making resorts all over the world safer places to visit.

Explore further: Bioengineers develop highly elastic biomaterial for better wound healing

More information: Boron Carbide as a Barium-Free Green Light Emitter and Burn-Rate Modifier in Pyrotechnics, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Article first published online: 6 APR 2011 DOI:10.1002/anie.201007827
via Nature

Related Stories

Eco-Friendly Pyrotechnics

Mar 17, 2008

You know it is chemistry when it stinks and goes boom—and entrances us. “No other application in the field of chemistry has such a positive association for the general population as fireworks,” says Thomas Klapötke ...

Recommended for you

Metal encapsulation optimizes chemical reactions

Jul 01, 2015

The chemical industry consumes millions of tons of packing materials as catalytic sup- port media or adsorbents in fixed-bed reactors and heat storage systems. Fraunhofer researchers have developed a means of encapsulating ...

Fuel and chemicals from steel plant exhaust gases

Jul 01, 2015

Carbon monoxide-rich exhaust gases from steel plants are only being reclaimed to a minor extent as power or heat. Fraunhofer researchers have developed a new recycling process for this materially unused carbon resource: They ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
good thing if something that is used as rat poison gets replaced
not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
good thing if something that is used as rat poison gets replaced

...replaced by something that is used as cockroach poison :)
When the carbide burns you'll get the oxide which when hydrated becomes boric acid.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.