Nitrocellulose-Based Propellant Chemicals

Nitrocellulose-Based Propellants

Propellant chemicals consist of a main fuel and oxidizer component, plus additives including plasticizers, stabilizers, burn-rate modifiers and binders. They are used in ammunition, rocketry and civil propellants as propellant stabilizers, ballistic modifiers and plasticizers; and as explosive components, typically binders and plasticizers.

Typical uses:

  • Gunpowder for Small-Caliber Ammunition
  • Single, Double and Triple-Based Ammunition Propellants
  • Double-Based Rocket Propellants
Nitrocellulose-Based Propellants


Nitrocellulose is the commercial term for cellulose nitrate, the nitric ester of cellulose. It is obtained by esterification of cellulose and nitric acid.

The degree of esterification—the number of nitrate groups per glucose unit—is characterized by the nitrogen content, and can be influenced by the composition or the concentration of the nitrating acid. NC with a nitrogen content of 10.7–12.2% is typically used in the production of inks and lacquers; NC with 12.6–13.4% nitrogen content is used in energetic formulations such as propellants and dynamite.

IPI provides nitrocellulose for use in propellants and dynamite.

  • Wetted with 27–30% water
  • Nitrogen content: 13.6% max
  • CAS No. 9004-70-0
  • UN No. 2555
  • MIL-DTL-244B

See typical specification sheet.

Molecular structure

Molecular structure of nitrocellulose

Propellant Stabilizers for NC-Based Propellants

As Nitrocellulose (NC) based propellants are inherently unstable, they degrade in time. This occurs when the NC loses nitrogen oxides, which attack the NC molecule.

To solve the problem, stabilizers, which have a greater affinity toward the nitrogen oxides than NC, absorb the nitrogen oxide before they can attack the NC molecule.

Stabilizer (click for spec sheet)TypeSpecifiation
2,4-Dinitrotoluene (DNT) Single-BaseMIL-D-204
2-Nitrodiphenylamine (2-NDPA)Double-BaseMIL-N-3399
Akardite IIMulti-BaseDOD-M-64040
Diphenylamine (DPA)Single-BaseMIL-D-98
Ethyl CentraliteMulti-BaseMIL-E-255
Methyl CentraliteMulti-BaseMIL-M-19719
N-Methyl-p-Nitroaniline (MNA)Solid FuelMIS-35107
DNT Propellant Stabilizer

2,4 Dinitrotoluene (DNT) is a single-base propellant stabilizer for NC-based propellants.

Nitrocellulose-Based Propellant Additives

Additive (click for spec sheet)FunctionSpecification
Carbon BlackOpacifier
Di-Normal Propyl Adipate (DNPA)PlasticizerMIL-D-22346
Diethyl PhthalatePlasticizerJAN-D-242
Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)Flame SuppressantMIL-E-255
Potassium Sulfate (K2SO4)Flame SuppressantMIL-P-193
Triacetin (Glyceryl Triacetate)PlasticizerMIL-T-301
Zirconium Carbide (ZrC)Combustion Instability SuppressantMIL-Z-85500

Ballistic Modifiers

Adding small quantities of lead compounds to double-base rocket propellants results in increased burning rate at low pressure.

Lead salts render the burning rate independent of pressure and ignition temperature. A high burning rate/pressure relationship is desirable because it facilitates the production of lighter rocket motors due to lower safety requirements.

Chemical (click for spec sheet)Specification
Copper Beta Resorcylate, Monobasic
Copper Monobasic SalicylateAS-3236
LC-12-0 to LC-12-20
Lead 2-Ethyl Hexoate (Lead Octoate)MIL-L-17699
Lead Beta ResorcylateAS-2853
LC-12-15 Ballistic ModifierMIL-B-85735
Lead SalicylateMIL-L-13788, MIL-L-17700
Lead StearateMIL-L-758A

LC-12-15 Ballistic Modifier