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Chemical of the Week: CL-20

October 3, 2013

Since the invention of gunpowder in China over one thousand years ago, much human ingenuity over the years has gone into devising ways to make things explode. The current epitome of this search for bigger and better explosives is CL-20. It was developed in the 1980’s at the U.S. Naval China Lake research facility in California. It’s currently being investigated as a component of new high energy plastic explosives.

The CL-20 molecule.

The CL-20 molecule.

There are a few interesting things about CL-20. One is that it has an almost unpronounceable formal name; 2,4,6,8,10,12-hexanitro-2,4,6,8,10,12-hexaazaisowurtzitane (you can see why they named it CL-20!). The second is that it is the world’s most powerful non-nuclear explosive. This explosive energy is provided by the high concentration of nitramine functional groups as well as, to some extent, the appreciable ring strain in the molecular structure.