The Compound That Can Even Set Fire to Glass

Chlorine trifluoride (ClF3) is toxic, corrosive, and incredibly reactive with virtually every element on the planet. The chemical is quite useful as a high energy fluorinating agent or incendiary material. However, the same properties that make it useful can also make it creepy extremely quickly if the chemical is misused in any way.

Space filling model of chlorine trifluoride [Image Source: Wikipedia]

The history of chlorine trifluoride

Having a compound that reacts violently with practically anything seems downright absurd, although its strong oxidizing properties can be useful in some industrial practices.

Fluorine (F2) currently retains the title of the strongest oxidizing agent of all known elements. As early as 1930, the scientists Otto Ruff and H. Krug isolated a connection that would turn out to be such more reactive than fluorine. The fluid is extreme hypergolic with most connections (self-igniting) makes it an ideal fuel for flame throwers.

At the time the Second World War was raging. Many countries were researching chemical weapons that were highly effective and could be manufactured cheaply. ClF3 naturally intrigued scientists because it was so easy to make and devastatingly effective. When Germany discovered the site, they used it to build incredibly powerful incendiary bombs. The compound became so effective that it began to produce the compound in Tonnage quantities.

Although it was easy to produce, only about 30 tons were ever produced. The instability and reactive properties of the chemical made it incredibly dangerous to handle.

Fortunately, the compound has been banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention since the war. Although the pact did not completely stop production of the compound.

What makes it so deadly?

When ClF3 comes into contact with virtually any element, it evaporates into a poisonous gas. Even if it decomposes, it will still produce hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid, typically in vapor form. When it ignites (which makes it easy), it burns over 2,400 degrees Celsius. As it turns out, this is the chemical more oxidizing than oxygen itself, making it an extremely powerful explosive. Essentially, with respect to fins, chlorine trifluoride is known to set combustible materials such as sand, glass, or even on fire asbestos. Even compounds that have already been burned can be re-ignited like a heap of ash.

CLF3 reacts explosively on contact with water. Unfortunately for humans, water is an element of which humans are primarily composed. The mixture ignites quickly on contact with human skin. Pouring water on it will only provide more fuel to burn. Once ignited, it is almost impossible wipe out. Usually the best course of action during a spill is to evacuate the area and let the chemical wreak havoc. The resulting corrosive gases are easily carried by the wind. All metals that come into contact with it are severely rusted.

The time a TON of ClF3 was spilled

In the late 1940s through the early 1950s, scientists investigated the use of fluorinated compounds as effective oxidants for liquid fuel rockets. In 1948, the US successfully conducted the first test using ClF3 on a rocket motor with liquid propellant. Further tests were found to be favorable results that encourage further production of ClF3.

Making a rocket with an oxidizer that reacts violently with virtually any element requires particularly careful examination of every material used. Every part has been carefully manufactured, cleaned and passivated to prevent parts from corroding or igniting spontaneously. Although security was heavily considered, the connection remained extremely dangerous.

In the era of liquid rocket propellant development, the ClF3 disaster occurred for the first time. A 1 ton steel container was prepared to be loaded with liquid ClF3 for a large shipment. To reduce the risk of ignition, the tank was cooled with dry ice to make the connection safer to handle. However, the effects of dry ice on the container were not taken into account. The incredibly cold temperatures embrittled the walls of the steel containers and compromised their structural integrity. The weakened container cracked when it was transferred to a trolley, allowing the product to leak out uncontrollably. The accident resulted in the release of 907 kg from ClF3 to the ground. The chemical ate quickly 30 cm of concrete before further dissolving another 90 cm of gravel underneath.

Deadly fumes such as chlorine trifluoride, hydrogen fluoride, chlorine and many others caused severe corrosion on everything the chemicals came in contact with.

Normal candle wax does not react to ClF3

Chlorine trifluoride is a chemical that should only be handled by professionals. Once it turns into a gas, ClF3 is colorless with a sweet and pungent odor. There are few chemicals that remain completely unreactive with chlorine trifluoride. Terrifyingly, one of them is regular candle wax. Without a suitable container, the compound could react violently, which could prove fatal.

However, some YouTubers took the risk to show how dangerous the chemical is. YouTuber Simon Whistler spoke about the extreme dangers of ClF3 on his Today I Found Out channel. In the video, he talks about the volatility of the compound and shows how the chemical easily ignites most compounds, including glass.

In the words of John Clark, chlorine trifluoride

It’s extremely toxic, of course, but that’s the least of the problem. It’s hypergolic with every known fuel and hypergolic so quickly that ignition lag has never been measured. It’s also hypergolic with things like cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water, which it explosively reacts with. “He continues,” It can be stored in some of the common building metals – steel, copper, aluminum, etc. – due to the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride that protects most of the metal, as does the invisible oxide layer on aluminum, that it burns in the atmosphere. However, when this layer is melted or washed off and has no chance of reforming, the operator faces the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. To deal with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes. “

[Featured Image Source: Pixabay]

SEE ALSO: Observing the Molecular Dynamics of Chemical Reactions in Real Time

Written by Maverick Baker

Comments are closed.