Chemistry of Organic Explosives

Organic explosives are those types of explosives which are composed of hydrocarbons in addition to an oxidizing source which will help to complete the combustion of the hydrocarbon C-H bonds.   In particular and hydrocarbons in general are used often to generate heat due to their exothermic combustion reactions which gives off the gases CO2 and H2O that are released during the combustion reaction. 

Simply speaking, explosives are defined as compounds which undergo uncontrolled rate of combustion.  In this type of reaction an enormous amount of gas and heat is liberated during the combustion process of the hydrocarbons.  This amount of gas then explodes by exerting pressure on the wall of the container which contains the explosive.  This process is especially true for hand grenades. 

In order for an explosion to occur there must be an uncontrolled combustion of a hydrocarbon.  This process needs an oxidizing agent which in normal combustion such as occurs in cars engines a mixture of air which contains oxygen and gasoline which are mixed and combusted.  As a result heat and gases are generated which give the power to move the car. 

In closed containers such as in rockets the oxygen or air is usually not present or absent.  In addition, in rockets for example where high combustion rate is needed the amount of oxygen that is present is usually very small to affect a one to one ratio of combustion.  Therefore another source of an oxidizing agent must be supplied for the combustion or explosion to take place. 

The oxidizing agent that is required for the combustion can be either an integral part of the compound or it can be a separate molecule that is present in the mixture with the explosive.  An example of a guel which is used in rocket technology is nitromethane or CH3-NO2.  This compound is compatible with the definition given above about the suitability of a hydrocarbon to be an explosive or fuel since it is rich with C-H bonds which are the combustible part.  In addition, it contains the nitro group which is the source of the oxygen for the oxidtion process.

Any other potential oxidizing agent that is attached to the hydrocarbon can also be a potential for rocket fuel and explosive such as sulphonic acid or SO3H that can be attached to methane for examle.  Hydrocarbons can also be used as explosives with the oxidizing agent not as part of the molecule.  Any potential oxidizing agent whether solid or liquid can be used for this purpose such chromic acid and permanganate ions. 

Polymers of sugars in organic chemistry such as cellulose have widespread in explosive industry due to the their ability to be nitrated on the hydroxyl gorups and their ability to combust.  Glycerol is another hydrocarbon which contains three hydroxyl groups that can be nitrated an then become a potential for an explosive material and a fuel.  

Benzene derivatives can also function as explosives such as tri-nitro-toluene and tri-nitro-phenol.  These two compounds are similar in structure.  They both have an electron donating group and three nitro groups which are electron withdrawing.  The nitro group in these compounds function the same as with those on aliphatic hydrocarbons to oxidize the hydrocarbon. 

In addition this structure imparts stability to the benzene ring and to the explosive against shock and heat.  Any potential compound of benzene with an electron donating group and three or less electron withdrawing groups can function as a potential for an explosive such as para-nitro-chloro-benzene which is theoretically another candidate for a compound which has a hydrocarbon skeleton and an oxidizing.agent which has oxygen source. 

As with the other hydrocarbons the oxidizing agent does not necessarily have to be a part of the molecule but this is the usual case in rocket fuels and in explosives