US Army Discovers New Explosive Material - "More Powerful Than TNT"

The chemical compound trinitrotoluene (C7H5N3O6), or most commonly known as TNT, was developed in Germany in 1863 by Joseph Wilbrand. While TNT is not as powerful as dynamite, it is more stable than most explosives. For more than a century, militaries around the world have melted down TNT into shell casings for kinetic energy weapons. TNT is considered the premier mixture of chemicals for creating spectacular explosions, and it is used in the formulation of determining the amount of energy released when a nuclear weapon is detonated, usually expressed as a TNT equivalent.

After more than a 100 years of dominance, new research from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Army Research Laboratory have discovered a new, more powerful compound, Bis-oxadiazole (C6H4N6O8), which could render TNT obsolete.

The molecular structure of Bis-oxadiazole. (Source: OPR&D)

“It would be about 1.5 times the power of TNT,” said David Chavez, an explosives chemist at Los Alamos who worked on the new molecule, who spoke with Popular Mechanics. “So fairly energetic, quite a nice improvement compared to TNT.”

Popular Mechanics first uncovered the report titled “Bis(1,2,4-oxadiazole) Bis(methylene) Dinitrate: A High-Energy Melt-Castable Explosive and Energetic Propellant Plasticizing Ingredient,” which was published late last month in the Organic Process Research & Development, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society.

Chavez told Popular Mechanics that TNT is a blend of the seemingly harmless elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen (C7H5N3O6). However, he compares the explosive compounds to gasoline, indicating that rather than extracting oxygen from the air to work as an oxidizer for combustion, like an engine, the explosives have all the ingredients for a powerful explosion within the compound.

The report goes on to explain how TNT has a “major advantage” on the production line than other forms of explosives: it is melt-castable, which means the explosive can be shaped into molds and shells to produce bombs.

“The place where you see it used most is mortar shells and artillery shells,” said Jesse Sabatini, a synthesis chemist with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, told Popular Mechanics.

TNT has some significant disadvantages that have led to a “quest to develop new melt-castable explosives,” said Sabatini, between various governmental agencies, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. Sabatini told Popular Mechanics the Army is concerned that TNT and other chemical compounds produce high amounts of pollutants during the manufacturing process.

“There is actually quite a bit of waste that’s generated by making TNT,” Chavez said. “There’s something that’s called red water, which is the kind of water that’s left over from the nitration of TNT. And then when the TNT itself is actually isolated, it’s washed with more water, and that water is a waste that’s called pink water, and it also has some environmental impacts.”

Explosives chemist David Chavez pours an example of melt-castable explosive into a copper mold at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technical Area 9. (Source: Army)

“The Army always wants to have enhanced performance,” Sabatini said. “They want more blast. They want more power. And TNT is okay… but we want to do better than that.”

In 2016, ARL synthesized Bis-isoxazole, which proved to be much greener to manufacture and melt-castable, but there was one problem: the new explosive was not as powerful.

The scientist at ARL contacted their colleagues at the Los Alamos laboratories to tweak the explosive recipe. By exchanging a carbon atom for another nitrogen, the Los Alamos scientists were amazed the new tweaked compound produced a much higher explosive yield.

The result, well, the new tweaked chemical compound could replace TNT, is now known as Bis-oxadiazole.

“The additional nitrogen adds density to the molecule, and removing carbon helps balance out the oxidizer so all of the fuel can be used up to produce energy in the reaction. And once the researchers had synthesized it in the lab, they realized Bis-oxadiazole has a melting point around that of TNT, making it melt-castable,” said Popular Mechanics.

According to the scientist, there are two methods in measuring the energy of an explosion: detonation velocity and detonation pressure. It is believed that Bis-oxadiazole “should have a detonation velocity of around 8.18 km/s and detonation pressure of 29.4 gigapascals, compared to around 7.8 km/s and 26 gigapascals for Composition B,” said Popular Mechanics.

The scientist told Popular Mechanics that the production of Bis-oxadiazole would continue for future toxicity studies at ARL and Aberdeen Proving Ground. If the outcomes are successful, the new compound will be molded into artillery shells for testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground. If all goes well on the artillery range, then scientist could start producing large quantities

Chavez explained the average time from chemical discovery to fielding new explosives takes about 5 to 10 years. However, if the new explosive material is as powerful and green to manufacture as scientist suggest, then the Pentagon could rush to incorporate Bis-oxadiazole on the modern battlefield.

“It is a compound that certainly has us excited,” Sabatini said.  

To sum up, the Army has developed environmentally friendly explosives that are much more powerful than TNT. It is likely this new technology of advanced explosives will be rushed onto the battlefield before the next round of wars. Seems like the Army is going green…


Cognitive Dissonance are we there yet Sat, 07/07/2018 - 22:55 Permalink

The very definition of insanity.

To sum up, the Army has developed environmentally friendly explosives that are much more powerful than TNT.

Finding more environmentally friendly ways to make a compound that is decidedly unfriendly to the environment when used to make big bada booms.

Of course, the concern is environmental friendliness because it is created in the US, so we have to live with the manufacturing debris. When it is detonated, it is usually far away from the fatherland so fuck them all.

In reply to by are we there yet

tmosley Last of the Mi… Sun, 07/08/2018 - 09:54 Permalink

The (calculated) DETONATION VELOCITY is 50% higher than TNT (6900 m/s), which is considerably more than either RDX (8750 m/s) or FOX-7 (8870 m/s). I don't know what the relationship between that and "power" is. I suspect it is an exponential relationship though--meaning you can probably get 2-2.5X the destruction per weight of explosive with this stuff.

Very impressive, but it will be years if not decades before this becomes useful. Have to build an entire infrastructure not just for its production but also for its use. FOX-7 was discovered in 1998 but has yet to displace RDX.

In reply to by Last of the Mi…

Bwana tmosley Sun, 07/08/2018 - 15:42 Permalink

The formula for the kinetic is 1/2 Mass X Velocity squared. HMX cyclotetramethylenetetranitromene B polymorph is 31,000 FPS at a density of 1.8 it is RDX's big brother. It suffers from a critical diameter problem of 10mm

The German's used it during WW2 for bombs mixed with about 20% TNT. They calculated the cost of the plane and pilot based upon the average number of missions they would be expected fly before being shot down. The cost of a bombing run was huge and they figured they should use the most powerful explosive because compared to the cost of a single mission for the plane and pilot the increase in destructive power more than outweighed the increase cost of the explosives. If this new explosive is all it is said to be they need to bring it into use as soon as possible. If it can be loaded into shells and it will reliably not detonate during firing it will increase the hit or decrease the weight of the bombs so more can be carried.

In reply to by tmosley

any_mouse Manthong Sun, 07/08/2018 - 03:13 Permalink

Of course, they will want to use depleted uranium projectiles with the new green energy explosive to maximize lethality.

Spread the goodness of Central Banking.

Nothing speaks to the true value of the US dollar more than a carrier battle group, or two, in the vicinity.

But Assad is using barrel bombs and chemical weapons. Assad must go!

In reply to by Manthong

tmosley man from glad Sun, 07/08/2018 - 09:57 Permalink

Not really. Having the structure doesn't mean you know the process to make it, and moreso, doesn't mean you know how to SAFELY make it. Beyond that, knowing how to safely make it doesn't make the infrastructure appear.

I know how to make smokeless powder IN THEORY. In practice, if I were to make such an attempt at scale, there would be a massive explosion.

In reply to by man from glad

MozartIII Cognitive Dissonance Sat, 07/07/2018 - 23:07 Permalink

The US government is trying to play catch up with Russia & China. Not so sure that this is actually happening. A new hyper tnt explosive sounds impressive. That will be used on the people.


The Hypersonic weapons of Russia & China, are real. The US gets tnt on steroids. That fill fix the problem of years of government abuse in pork spending by the US.

In reply to by Cognitive Dissonance

any_mouse East Indian Sun, 07/08/2018 - 03:22 Permalink

Big joke is that Putin is playing his part in a scam.

Mineshaft gaps. Must increase destructive wealth transfers to the hyper wealthy.

Meanwhile lithium extraction is leaving areas of highly toxic waste in the desert.

Just so Musk fanbois can buy a MuskCar. Because EV tech is so green and earth friendly.

A lithium mining operation less than a year old in Northwestern Nye county was recently told to GTFO. Capped the water wells and leaving the toxic pools behind.

In reply to by East Indian