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DBX-1 – AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY LEAD-AZIDE REPLACEMENT

Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Co. (PacSci EMC) in Chandler, AZ, in conjunction with chemists at NSWC-IH and elsewhere, has developed DBX-1, an environmentally friendly (Green) primary explosive. DBX-1 is a drop-in replacement for lead azide and has an identical sensitivity profile and equivalent or better output when replacing LA in the same volume.

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John W. Fronabarger, Michael D. Williams, William B. Sanborn, Jon G. Bragg, Damon A. Parrish, Magdy Bichay

Excerpt from: “DBX-1 – A Lead Free Replacement for Lead Azide”
Published: Propellants Explosives, Pyrotechnics, May 23, 2011
LEAD AZIDE (RD-1333, LA)

Lead azide (RD-1333, LA) has been widely used in ordnance systems for many years. Virtually all chemical detonators utilize LA as the initial shock wave generating compound necessary for proper detonation of subsequent main explosive charges. LA is a reliable explosive material and because it has been studied extensively, properties and manufacturing processes are well defined. Despite being a useful energetic material, LA contains lead, a toxic heavy metal that is released to the environment during production and use. Environmental health and safety regulations on lead containing materials are quite extensive and are likely to increase in severity in the future, along with compliance costs. The manufacture, use, demilitarization and disposal of LA (and ordnance containing them) are deeply impacted by these regulations, and lead-free alternatives to LA have been sought for many years. LA also has shortcomings in that it is unstable in non-hermetic munitions applications (forming copper azide) and because of this has been limited in use by NAVSEA instruction 8020.3A (1986).

In conjunction with chemists at NSWC-IH and elsewhere, we have developed DBX-1, an environmentally friendly (Green) primary explosive. DBX-1 is a drop-in replacement for lead azide and has an identical sensitivity profile and equivalent or better output when replacing LA in the same volume. DBX-1 is compatible with copper and other metals, a variety of primary and secondary explosives, as well as other materials used in the fabrication of ordnance components.

NO TOXIC OR ENVIRONMENTALLY UNDESIRABLE ELEMENTS

Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Company (PacSci EMC) in Chandler, AZ, in conjunction with chemists at NSWC-IH and elsewhere, has been involved since 1999 in programs to develop existing or new materials which would serve as a drop-in replacement for LA and which incorporate no toxic or environmentally undesirable elements. We developed a new material, copper(I) 5-nitrotetrazolate (DBX-1) which shows great promise as a LA replacement. Like LA, DBX-1 is extremely thermally stable with DBX-1 being slightly less or more stable depending on application and/or test conditions. Unlike LA, DBX-1 does not decompose in non-hermetic systems and is therefore appropriate in the presence of copper components. DBX-1 has a substantially higher level of compatibility with a variety of secondary explosives and other potential ordnance materials compared to LA. In addition, and most importantly, DBX-1 has sensitivity and output characteristics which are equivalent

to or exceed those of LA and DBX-1 does not show the tendency to dead press at high (>40k psi) loading pressures. This property is relatively exclusive to these molecules. DBX-1 decomposes slowly in 100% water but is completely stable in IPA solution affording a convenient means for wet shipping if necessary. An 8020.5C military qualification program was completed in 2009 (NSWC Contract #N00178-04-D-4149) at PSEMC with final receipt of the NOSSA qualification letter in September 2013 making DBX-1 an approved explosive for military items. In addition, DBX-1 has been successfully evaluated against LA in applications including our 104477-202 detonator, ACES II drogue severance cutter, and F-18 Firex directed tests. Other companies which utilize LA have evaluated DBX-1 in a variety of applications with very positive results as have several DoD organizations. Due to the high thermal stability of DBX-1, we have an interest in quantities of DBX-1 for use in commercial downhole oil field completion projects.

DBX-1 Chemical Properties

DBX-1 currently produced at 100 gram level

Methodology has been developed at PacSci EMC on a small scale that provides an efficient and rapid route to DBX-1 utilizing environmentally friendly reactants in an aqueous solvent system. In addition, PacSci EMC has developed a remote reactor system for production of intermediate levels of DBX-1. This system has generated 25g lots of DBX-1 and scale to 100g+ has been successful under a DOTC funded ManTech program. DBX-1 is currently routinely produced at the 100g+ level at PacSci EMC.

References:

DBX-1 – A Lead Free Replacement for Lead Azide”, J. W. Fronabarger, M. D. Williams, W. B. Sanborn, J. G. Bragg, D. A. Parrish and M. Bichay, Propellants, Explosives, Pyrotechnics, 36, 541 (2011)

U.S. Patents: 7,833,330, 8,071,784, 8,163,786, 8,298,324, 8,440,008