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Determining the dominant degradation mechanisms in Nitrocellulose

Lai, Amy J.; (2020) Determining the dominant degradation mechanisms in Nitrocellulose. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Nitrocellulose (NC) is the base component for many modern day propellants and explosives, as well as for everyday items such as printing inks, paint and lacquer coatings. Despite its early beginnings as the first man-made plastic, the decomposition pathways from the bulk material to the products observed from its ambient ageing are still not fully understood. Knowledge of these processes are of critical importance when considering the conservation of NC artefacts, refinement of product formulations, predictions of shelf life and safety improvements. In this study, the dominant degradation pathways of NC were investigated using quantum mechanics (QM) methods to probe the mechanisms leading to the initial cleavage of nitrate groups from the cellulosic backbone. The NC structure was truncated from a polymer chain to monomer, dimer and trimer units. Density functional theory methods (DFT) were used to study the mechanistic detail at individual nitrate sites. Comparison of differently sized units using the quantum theory of atoms in molecules (QTAIM), analysis of the electrostatic potential (ESP) surface and partial charges showed that the most suitable approximation for study of the decomposition reactions was the β-glucopyranose monomer, bi-capped with methoxy groups. The primary thermolytic and hydrolytic denitration routes were explored using transition state (TS) searches and potential energy surface (PES) scans. It was found that the thermolytic behaviour of the NC denitration step matched that of a well studied nitrate ester, pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). The hydrolytic scheme for nitrate cleavage was studied, finding that protonation at the bridging oxygen site was the most likely to lead to denitration. It was not possible to isolate a TS for the hydrolytic reaction, though a number of coordination schemes were tested. Key secondary processes beyond nitrate cleavage were examined to determine the fate of nitrogen in the system and the cause of the transition from a first order reaction rate to autocatalytic decomposition. The energies of reactions in three different decomposition schemes proposed in literature were compared. Ethyl nitrate was used as a test system before extension to the NC monomer. New reaction pathways for decomposition were constructed using the reactions posed in the literature studies. The new schemes revealed that •NO2 was the most likely cause for the experimentally observed autocatalytic rate of degradation.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Determining the dominant degradation mechanisms in Nitrocellulose
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © UK Ministry of Defence © Crown Owned Copyright 2020/AWE. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Chemistry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10111284
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