New Molecule Could Lead to More Efficient Rocket Fuel

Trinitramid [N(NO2)3] consists of only nitrogen and oxygen and the newly discovered molecule could be the future of rocket fuel.

“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,” says Tore Brinck, professor of physical chemistry at KTH.

Working with a research team at KTH, he discovered a new molecule in the nitrogen oxide group, which is not something that happens every day. It was while the scientists were studying the breakdown of another compound, using quantum chemistry computations, that they understood that the new molecule could be stable.

“As mentioned, what is specific to this molecule is that it contains only nitrogen and oxygen. Only eight such compounds were previously known, and most of them were discovered back in the 18th century. This is also clearly the largest of the nitrogen oxides. Its molecular formula isN(NO2)3, and the molecule is similar to a propeller in shape,” says Tore Brinck.

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