Military seeking a greener, gentler explosive

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Eco-warriors have a new weapon at their disposal – the green grenade. Scientists have invented a kind of explosive which, although not good for one's health, is gentle on the environment.

Professor Thomas Klapotke, a researcher from Ludwig- Maximilians University in Munich, told the British Association that strange as it might sound, the military were very keen to produce an explosive that did not pollute the environment. "You have to keep in mind that shooting, missile launches and explosions, within the army and also the police force, are done 99.9 per cent in training."

Professor Klapotke said the military did not want to pollute their own environment or put their own policemen and soldiers at risk.

Rocket propellants used in missiles, for instance, emitted potentially toxic aluminium oxide and hydrochloric acid. Explosives specialists were therefore trying to replace the metals and chloride compounds in explosives and propellants with more inert chemicals, such as nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen.

"All you get from these materials is ... hot air," Professor Klapotke said. Two "green" explosives were being developed by the German army and had passed laboratory tests, although they had not been tested in field trials.

One aim of the research was to replace the lead azide used in the explosive charge of bullets. The growing use of indoor firing ranges meant that police and military personnel were now regularly exposed to plumes of lead, a potentially dangerous heavy metal, when training.

Professor Klapotke said soldiers or police officers using firing ranges "find themselves in a plume of lead oxide particles, which so far haven't caused any health problems, but you have to be concerned. We want to replace that with carbon."

Conventional explosives were based on compounds that persisted for a very long time in the environment. TNT produced pollutant chemicals that were absorbed into fat, went into the food chain, and were toxic to the liver at high concentrations.