Picatinny chemist Anthony Shaw has worked with pyrotechnics since 2010, but his recent paper on smoke grenades only recently earned him the 2014 Dr. Bernard E. Douda Young Scientist Award.
The smoke grenade project has been a four-year collaboration between Picatinny's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Edgewood, Md. It has been funded by the U.S. Army's RDECOM Environmental Quality Technology Program.
It began in Picatinny's Pyrotechnics Research, Development, and Pilot Plant Branch. The branch is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center.
The project's goal was to remove a hazardous chemical known as hexachloroethane, or HC, and replace it with an environmentally benign composition for the smoke grenades that Soldiers use for screening on the battlefield.
"[Hexachloroethane smoke] is toxic and, if Soldiers breathed it in, it could cause injury. It's very hazardous smoke," explained Shaw. "So, there's been a push for some time to have smoke grenades that can be used on the battlefield for screening that aren't hazardous. That way, if someone does breathe it in, there isn't as much of a risk."
Soldiers have used the training grenade, M83, as a replacement because it includes terephthalic acid (TA), a non toxic material.
But, because the M83 functioned at a lower performance level than the original toxic composition, and did not provide enough smoke to form a thick screen, Picatinny chemists sought to develop a more effective, non-toxic composition.
Shaw's paper focuses on the research that was conducted as he and his team developed a benign composition known as BC (containing boron carbide), which performs at a higher level than TA.
One grenade containing the new BC composition gives the same performance as nearly two M83 grenades, allowing for potential weight savings. It is also versatile, allowing engineers to not only place the composition in grenades, but in a number of smoke munitions, potentially including mortars, artillery shells as well as pyrotechnic simulators and signals.
Now, in continuing collaboration with the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, the new smoke composition is undergoing further evaluation. However, the team's success with boron carbide smoke grenades has inspired Shaw to look further into ceramic materials in pyrotechnics and energetic materials, goals that he hopes may serve as a catalyst for future projects.
"I had been writing up this work at the same time I was doing research for the project, but because of the recent restrictions on conference travel, nobody was able to go to IPS in 2013, and we wanted to try really hard to make it in 2014," explained Shaw. "So the IPS was on my mind and I thought. Since I'm writing this up, I might as well try for the award."
Shaw's article is titled "Advanced Boron Carbide-Based Visual Obscurants for Military Smoke Grenades."
The International Pyrotechnics Society (IPS) is an international organization that promotes and shares research relating to the field of pyrotechnics. The society's seminars cover a variety of subjects, such as explosives, propellants, pyrotechnics, the devices that utilize these materials, processes used to make them, as well as their physical and chemical characteristics.
The IPS Young Scientist Award identifies a member whose research shows a significant contribution to the field of pyrotechnics. To be considered for the award, all competitors must submit a full paper for the members and officers of IPS to review.
The applicant must also be younger than 40 years old by the deadline, must not be a past or current officer of the IPS or IPSUSA, and must submit a paper and cover letter explaining the importance of the presented work, as well as present the paper at the International Pyrotechnics Seminar.
As this year's Young Scientist Award recipient, Shaw will present his paper to the IPS members and officers at the annual seminar this July in Colorado Springs.
"The thing that is exciting to me about this project is that it uses a material (boron carbide) that wasn't widely used in pyrotechnics before. It's a ceramic material and most people think of ceramics as being inert," said Shaw.
"But once they're finely powdered, many of these materials can be reactive and serve as components in energetic mixtures and this project is just one example of that."