Apr 132017

Explosives are, in a way, like rocket engines: they reached a certain plateau in performance decades ago and haven’t really gotten much better. This is not due to relevant people and organizations not caring to develop new ones; the problem is that there are just so many ways you can stick unstable molecules together in a cost effective manner. Some years ago while working ordnance systems (shaped charges for stage separation, rocket motor initiators, etc.) news came down that a new explosive (Octanitrocubane) was being studied. A *more* powerful explosive. Yay! Then the details came out: it was a *few* percent more powerful than HMX (the current gold standard in high explosive, and it has been since the ’40’s) and was expected to cost more than gold even after the manufacturing processes were worked out. Bah.

But there’s hope of new explodey-sauce:

Ground state structure of high-energy-density polymeric carbon monoxide

Links only to an abstract. But there’s a description HERE. Short form: at least theoretically, if you compress carbon monoxide, and compress it a lot, it seems it’ll form a polymer. It’ll turn into a  solid. A solid that should remain a solid when the pressure lets off. But also… a solid with a whole lot of pent-up anger issues:

the team’s search found that the most stable cabon monoxide structure at ambient pressure and temperature would be a polymer, a repeating molecule with a backbone of carbon and oxygen rings called Pna21. But this stuff couldn’t form spontaneously—it needs to be made at high pressures, maybe around ten thousand times higher than sea level pressure. And unlike other carbon monoxide polymers discovered previously, Pna21 would be absolutely explosive, five to ten times more so than the same amount of TNT, thanks to the huge amount of energy it stores.

Five to ten times as explosive as TNT would be damned handy in an explosive. TNT is the standard; HMX has a “relative effectiveness factor” of 1.7. Octanitrocubane is the best at 2.38. But if polymerized carbon monoxide has an R.E. factor of five… that’s about three times better than HMX. Since HMX is what’s used to squeeze plutonium pits to make go “bang,” doing three times better would lead to the potential for smaller, lighter nukes.

Of course, this all depends on whether carbon monoxide really does form a metastable solid explosive at high pressure, and is stable enough to be safe. An explosive that goes off if it rises above, say, fifteen degrees kelvin is less than entirely practical.

 Posted by at 2:36 am
  • se jones

    Way cool. This calls for a little “Dance of the Detonators”.

    The public has no idea of the extent explosives play in their everyday lives, from liberating the materials that make our electronics work, moving earth for our roads and water diversions, to explosively forming parts for aircraft engines, modern civilization depends on bada boom!


    • publiusr

      It sounds like this polymer can be a det/cord all its own. I wonder if this might have a dual use in some way. Could you place it inside buckytubes to hold it together for something both strong and explosive …

  • Robbie

    Speaking of explosives, we just blew the shit out of some poor fucker in Afghanistan with a MOAB. O_O

  • Peter Hanely

    How does this compare to fuel of your choice+LOX? Or for a more storeable version, fuel+NO2/N2O4?

  • guest

    Remember also, that getting something that will go BANG is only half the trick. The other half of the trick is making it so that it won’t go BANG until it’s supposed to.

    Ask any organic chemist with burnt-off eyebrows and missing fingers about the many attempts to synthesize the hypothetical energetic explosives dinitroacetylene, hexanitrocyclopropane, or trigonal azides.

  • bobbymike34

    Energetics is such an important area of research – getting there first with the biggest bang – for military weapons technology.

    Although, I doubt they were talking about this substance the Army’s technology magazine did talk about the future with 40mm grenades with the power of a 155mm artillery round.