Which is flammable kerosene or gasoline

Risk of explosion : Megasupramolecules make kerosene safer

Liquid fuel like kerosene is dangerous. It is highly flammable and can explode under certain conditions. In the engine combustion chambers (as in millions of internal combustion engines in automobiles) these properties are desirable, but not outside. Every year, it is estimated that several hundred people are killed in fires and explosions of fuel, such as aircraft accidents. US scientists have now developed a substance that is supposed to prevent such accidents. You report on it in the journal "Science".

The problem is not so much the liquid but rather the mist that arises above the surface: Together with the oxygen in the air, it forms a dangerous mixture that can easily burn and explode. If you prevent the formation of fog, the fuel would be safer, as chemists have known for a long time. Polymers (huge carbon molecules) were developed decades ago, which only need to be added to kerosene in small quantities and which prevent the formation of plumes. Initial tests with this "antimisting kerosene" were successful, but the polymers clogged the filters or were destroyed by mechanical stress - for example when flowing through fuel pumps.

Individual polymers come together to form giant molecules

Julia Kornfield from the California Institute of Technology and colleagues tried again. They developed polymers that come together in fuel to form giant molecules, referred to by researchers as “megasupramolecules”. This is made possible by special ends on the individual polymers, which create new bonds like a kind of Velcro fastener. The researchers report that the megasupramolecules effectively prevent fog formation. When exposed to stress, the molecular Velcro fasteners tear open, but then come together again and the fuel is secured again. The previous problem with clogged filters or polymer lumps that form on the vessel wall instead of floating in the liquid has also been solved, says Kornfield. "The molecules love fuel, they don't want to leave it."

In tests, the researchers were able to demonstrate that just a few proportions of the megasupramolecules in the fuel are sufficient to reduce the risk of explosion. They also investigated whether the additives influence the combustion process or damage the engine. On the contrary: a test with a diesel engine showed that its performance and efficiency were retained. In addition, there was twelve percent less soot, reports Kornfield.

It will take years, however, before the substance is mixed in jet fuel

In an accompanying comment, Michael Jaffe and Sahitya Allam from the New Jersey Institute of Technology emphasized that the new material was brought from the theoretical basis to practical readiness in an exemplary manner. The researchers used computer models to a large extent to find the ideal polymers and thus saved themselves time-consuming trial and error. With this method, exciting new discoveries of materials with new properties can also be expected in the future.

It will take years, however, before the substance is mixed in jet fuel. On the one hand, the manufacturing process must be further developed in order to be able to generate the required quantities. On the other hand, additives must not simply be added to kerosene. That must be approved by the aviation authorities.

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