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Getting The Lead Out Of Primary Explosives

A new compound, potassium 1,1´-dinitramino-5,5´-bistetrazolate, shows exceptional potential as a replacement for lead azide

by Bethany Halford
July 14, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 28

Working with explosives is tricky business, so a small amount of sensitive primary explosive is usually used to ignite a more stable secondary explosive. As rocker Bruce Springsteen put it: “You can’t start a fire without a spark.” The most common primary explosives are lead azide and lead styphnate, which have caused considerable lead contamination on military training grounds. Researchers in Germany have come up with a lead-free primary explosive with properties that are as good as or superior to the lead compounds (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201404790). Dennis Fischer, Thomas M. Klapötke, and Jörg Stierstorfer of Ludwig Maximilian University Munich have found that 1,1´-dinitramino-5,5´-bistetrazolate, or K2DNABT, outperforms lead azide in detonation tests and is similar to lead azide in terms of sensitivities, such as impact, friction, and electrostatic discharge. What’s more, the compound possesses high thermal stability, resisting decomposition when held at 100 °C for 48 hours. “All tests point to the fact that this material is a suitable and nontoxic replacement for lead azide, with a straightforward synthesis from commonly available chemicals,” the team notes.


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