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Project Ethylene Glycol

Sometime around 2003 we started using ethylene glycol as the fuel.  This is cheap, safer to handle than nitromethane and alcohol and doesn't evaporate as fast.  Plus when it is mixed in the right proportions it detonates easier.

I don't remember where I found it but someplace I found an obscure mention of ethylene glycol as being used in some explosive mixtures. I was immediately interested but skeptical. One does not think of ordinary car antifreeze as a fuel. But it is just a hydrocarbon closely related to alcohol (but far more toxic--it kills countless cats and dogs each year).

I had tried so many other fuels that one thinks of being far more easy to ignite and, one might assume, easier to detonate. Acetone, nitromethane, various types of alcohol, gasoline, diesel, naphthalene, and numerous other fuels have all been tested and found to be of varying sensitivity and I expected the ethylene glycol to be middle of the road at best.

I believe it was in December of 2002 that Ry and I mixed up an oxygen balanced mixture of potassium chlorate, ammonium nitrate, and ethylene glycol. We mixed it up in my Dad's shop and took it out in the woods for testing. It was a sticky blob that handled about like warm peanut butter--chunky style. It wasn't pleasant to work with and I considered not even doing a detonation test because it was so difficult to handle that I couldn't imagine using it. I punched a hole in a couple milk cartons of it from about 20 yards away with 7.62x39 rounds. There was no reaction except for the spillage out the back. Just what I figured. Well, it was worth a try. While picking up the the milk cartons I noticed that the entrance "wounds" had dark circles around them on the inside of the containers. It was "trying" to detonate!

My hunch was that if I reduced the fuel it would use less heat for vaporizing the liquid and would be more likely to detonate. We remixed the remaining material with more ammonium nitrate and potassium chlorate and tried again. I think one detonated and the other made a audible "pop" that blew the carton apart but didn't actually detonate. We were on the right track! Another remix or two and we had something that would detonate with about the same bullet velocity as the current mix and was just as easy to handle.

We ran out of time for the day but we left the farm quite excited. Even if it wasn't any more sensitive than the mixtures using nitromethane and alcohol it was far cheaper, didn't evaporate nearly as fast, and was less flammable. Ultimately we carefully did numerous experiments to get maximum sensitivity and found that in addition to the numerous other benefits it also would detonate easier. The only downside is that it doesn't begin to use all the available oxygen. Here is our maximum sensitivity mix:

1500 Grams Ammonium Nitrate. Prilled, not ground.
400 Grams Potassium Chlorate. 200 mesh powder.
3 tablespoons Ethylene Glycol. Cheap antifreeze with few or no preservatives.

Mix the EG with the AN until thoroughly blended.
Mix in the PC.

It will look very much like mixed curd size cottage cheese.

Seal in airtight containers.

Do not pack! The mixture must be slightly fluffy to detonate easily.

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Cautions

The risks are many.  I wear a flak jacket, eye protection, gloves, and hearing protection.

There are probably more cautions to be made than I can possibly remember.  Here are just a few of the other things I can think of off the top of my head that should be a concern to you:

bulletDo not allow the mixture prolonged contact with the air. 
bulletWork in a well ventilated area protected from direct sunlight.
bulletDo not use wood of any type with any of the chemicals. 
bulletJust a 1/2 cup of this mixture is way more than lethal.
bulletSpontaneous combustion has been known to occur.  
bulletIn many jurisdictions making explosives is illegal without a license.  
bulletStorage of explosives is covered by Federal (and probably local) law and requires ATF approved storage magazines.   
bulletSparks from static electricity, fire, smoking, impact of iron/steel tools, and probably a dozen other things can cause the mixture to ignite and possibly explode.  
bulletIf ignited, the mixture can not be put out by smothering.  It supplies it's own oxygen.  In fact, it releases more oxygen than it consumes while burning.  
bulletDuring the mixing process dust and liquids collect on your table, tools, the ground, and your clothes.  This must be washed off frequently.  Not only is it a fire/explosive hazard but it can 'rot' your clothes and shoes.  Water works well.
bulletBreathing the dust and vapors can be harmful.
bulletSkin contact with many of the chemicals can be harmful.
bulletIngestion of the chemicals can be fatal even if they aren't mixed in the right proportions and detonate on contact with your stomach acid.
bulletUV light from the sun can cause spontaneous combustion (and possibly explosions) of KClO3 and many types of fuels (wood, paper, oil, dry grass, metal powders).
bulletI will nominate you for a Darwin award if you kill yourself.
bulletI will nominate your dead friends for Darwin awards for hanging out with you.

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Email: Joe Huffman
Last updated: February 28, 2010