Rocket fuel that's cleaner, safer and still full of energy

rocket
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Research published this week in Science Advances shows that it may be possible to create rocket fuel that is much cleaner and safer than the hypergolic fuels that are commonly used today. And still just as effective. The new fuels use simple chemical "triggers" to unlock the energy of one of the hottest new materials, a class of porous solids known as metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs. MOFs are made up of clusters of metal ions and an organic molecule called a linker.

Satellites and space stations that remain in orbit for a considerable amount of time rely on hypergols, fuels that are so energetic they will immediately ignite in the presence of an oxidizer (since there is no oxygen to support combustion beyond the Earth's atmosphere). The hypergolic fuels that are currently mainly in use depend on hydrazine, a highly toxic and dangerously unstable chemical compound made up of a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. Hydrazine-based fuels are so carcinogenic that people who work with it need to get suited up as though they were preparing for themselves. Despite precautions, around 12,000 tons of hydrazine fuels end up being released into the atmosphere every year by the aerospace industry.

"This is a new, cleaner approach to making highly combustible fuels, that are not only significantly safer than those currently in use, but they also respond or combust very quickly, which is an essential quality in ," says Tomislav Friščić. He is a professor in the Chemistry Department at McGill, and co-senior author on the paper along with former McGill researcher Robin D. Rogers.

Research published this week in Science Advances shows that it may be possible to create rocket fuel that is much cleaner and safer than the hypergolic fuels that are commonly used today. And still just as effective. Credit: McGill University

"Although we are still in the of working with these materials in the lab, these results open up the possibility of developing a class of new, clean and highly tunable hypergolic fuels for the ," says the first author, Hatem Titi, a post-doctoral fellow who works in Friščić's lab.

Friscis is interested in commercializing this technology, and will work with McGill and Acsynam, an existing spin-off company from his laboratory, to make this happen.


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More information: "Hypergolic zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs) as next-generation solid fuels: Unlocking the latent energetic behavior of ZIFs" Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav9044 , http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/4/eaav9044
Journal information: Science Advances

Provided by McGill University
Citation: Rocket fuel that's cleaner, safer and still full of energy (2019, April 5) retrieved 20 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-rocket-fuel-cleaner-safer-full.html
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Apr 05, 2019
Despite precautions, around 12,000 tons of hydrazine fuels end up being released into the atmosphere every year by the aerospace industry.


Hydrazine is used as a fungicide in the wine industry, sprayed on the vines. It isn't really -that- toxic, although you don't want to pour it on yourself. It's "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" which isn't really a concern, because if you're exposed enough for that to become an issue, you're already dead or seriously ill by poisoning.

About two million tons of hydrazine is used for foaming agents in plastics. Your mattress was probably made using hydrazine hydrate.

Apr 05, 2019
And most of the hydrazine released into the atmosphere comes not from rockets, but from things like fighter jets which use the fuel for running emergency generators, and re-starting the jets in a flameout.

Apr 05, 2019
Lots of dangerous stuff out there. You can buy HF at Michaels for etching glass.

Apr 05, 2019
And most of the hydrazine released into the atmosphere comes not from rockets, but from things like fighter jets which use the fuel for running emergency generators, and re-starting the jets in a flameout.

Or for secret aircraft that might have replaced SR-71's and often fly too high to depend on oxygen in the air around them.

Apr 05, 2019
Hysrazine is unstable (oxidizes) as the article implies. The metal compounds sounds more stable, more environmentally questionable - and more massive too, re fuel use - so has its problems cut out for itself.

Apr 05, 2019
Progress isn't made by playing it safe. That's how China has overtaken the U.S. and especially Europe who are more concerned about banning lead from solder than feeding themselves in the long-run.

Apr 05, 2019
Jh1, the last part of your comment got cut off.
"& chase away the flying saucers."

pormyboy, considering you are an apologist for the death cult of the atomic priesthood?

It is hilarious to see you tantruming at China for making all our shiny toys for which we trade them our surplus agriculture.

At hefty markups.
Until the Bofus POTUS goes all senile buffoon on twitter & queers the very deals he brags of creating.
Including the Marshall Plan.

A recent BioMedical article about increasing fertility among young American newlyweds.
One of the causes is strict regulation & removal of lead in petroleum products & paints & solder.

You just have to control your revulsion at the sight of the fat pink asses of the strumpet's supporters.
To realize America feeds itself very well, thank you!
It's the rest of the World who have to survive on a fraction of the normal American's gluttony.

A classic productive capitalist libertarian entrepreneur does not fear competition.
You are a coward.

Apr 06, 2019
Hysrazine is unstable (oxidizes) as the article implies. The metal compounds sounds more stable, more environmentally questionable - and more massive too, re fuel use - so has its problems cut out for itself.


I suspect you are thinking that because MOF compounds contain metal they are necessarily more massive that hydrazine based hypergolic fuels. But MOF's are actually so porous that the weight of the framework membranes isn't very large. In addition, the amount of actual metal is some of them is quite small.

Apr 06, 2019
And most of the hydrazine released into the atmosphere comes not from rockets, but from things like fighter jets which use the fuel for running emergency generators, and re-starting the jets in a flameout.


No atmospheric hydrazine comes from rockets because it is burned with liquid oxygen. Nor does it come from jets which also burn it.

Apr 06, 2019
And most of the hydrazine released into the atmosphere comes not from rockets, but from things like fighter jets which use the fuel for running emergency generators, and re-starting the jets in a flameout.


No atmospheric hydrazine comes from rockets because it is burned with liquid oxygen. Nor does it come from jets which also burn it.


They never work perfectly - some fuel is left unburned, or leaks, or is deliberately dumped to prevent an explosion. Hydrazine doesn't readily ignite in air - in monopropellant engines it is passed through a catalyst that initiates the reaction.

Think about when you start a car engine. It belches out a plume of unburned hydrocarbons as it starts, before the catalytic converter warms up. That's why things like ethanol blended gasoline are actually a really bad thing: the car belches out ethanal (acetaldehyde) which is a major contributor to air pollution and lung cancer.

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