McGill University scientists are in the process of developing a new rocket fuel that is much cleaner and safer than modern-day hypergolic fuels.
According to the researchers, the new fuel uses simple chemical ‘triggers’ to unlock the energy of a class of porous solids known as Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs).
Most spacecraft run on hypergols. These fuels are so energetic that they immediately ignite in the presence of an oxidizer like Hydrazine.
Hydrazine is a highly toxic and dangerously unstable chemical compound made up of a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms.
It is also so carcinogenic that people who work with it need to get suited up as though they were preparing for space travel themselves.
Despite precautions, around 12,000 tons of hydrazine fuels end up being released into the atmosphere every year by the aerospace industry.
The McGill scientists led by professor Tomislav Friščić and researcher Robin D. Rogers are hoping to remedy this with their MOF-based fuel.
“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 rocket fuel,” says Friščić.
“Although we are still in the early stages 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 aerospace industry,” says first author Hatem Titi.
Friščić is hoping to commercialize this technology and is working with McGill and Acsynam – an existing spin-off company from his laboratory – to make it happen.
Image and content: CC0 Public Domain/McGill University