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Center Innovation Fund: ARC CIF

High energy density additives for Hybrid Fuel Rockets to Improve Performance and Enhance Safety

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

We propose a conceptual study of prototype strained hydrocarbon molecules as high energy density additives for hybrid rocket fuels to boost the performance of these rockets without compromising safety and reliability. Use of these additives could extend the range of applications for which hybrid rockets become an attractive alternative to conventional solid or liquid fuel rockets. The objectives of the study were to confirm and quantify the high enthalpy of these strained molecules and to assess improvement in rocket performance that would be expected if these additives were blended with conventional fuels. We confirmed the chemical properties (including enthalpy) of these additives. However, the predicted improvement in rocket performance was too small to make this a useful strategy for boosting hybrid rocket performance.

Hybrid rockets use a solid fuel with a liquid or gaseous oxidizer. They have advantages over solid fuel rockets for certain space applications because the solid fuel component is more stable than combined solid fuel and oxidizer, and advantages over liquid fuel rockets because the fuel does not require cryogenic storage or pumping and the burn rate can be controlled by regulating the flow of oxidizer. Ideal fuels should a fast regression rate, high density and good mechanical stability (so it will not break apart during burning). A current project at ARC is evaluating hybrid rockets comprised of solid paraffin fuel and cryogenic nitrous oxide and LOX oxidizer and has shown that higher regression rates are needed. Strained cyclic hydrocarbons have positive enthalpy and can be blended with paraffins to make fuels for hybrid rockets, but to be effective the resulting solid must have physical and mechanical characteristics at least comparable to the pure paraffin fuels. The stable hydrocarbon molecules with the highest strain energy are comprised of triangular rings of carbon atoms (cyclopropane), but these are gases at normal temperatures and pressures. Recently, chemists have synthesized molecules (called ivyanes, shown in Figure 1) containing multiple cyclopropane rings bonded together. We propose investigating blends of ivyanes and paraffins to determine their thermochemical and physical properties. We will first carry out simulations to predict enthalpy, density and stability of these blends using first principles chemistry and physics methods. Previously, first principles calculations by two of us (Jaffe and Zehe, J. Organic Chem. 2010, 75, 4387) demonstrated thermochemical properties can be determined to an accuracy of 2 kJ/mol for hydrocarbon molecules containing 10-20 carbon atoms. In the second phase, the density, melting temperature and heat of sublimation of solid ivyanes and the blends will be determined from molecular dynamics simulations.

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This is a historic project that was completed before the creation of TechPort on October 1, 2012. Available data has been included. This record may contain less data than currently active projects.

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