A Russian rocket, powered by hydrogen peroxide.
Yes, hydrogen peroxide can be used as rocket fuel, and in fact, it has been the propellant of choice for the Russian space program for decades. That doesn’t mean that everyone’s private rocket company key is kept in the medicine cabinet. The form used for rocket fuel is at least a 90% concentration, while the disinfectant in a medicine cabinet has been diluted to about 3%. It’s still powerful enough to kill germs, but nowhere near strong enough to launch a rocket into space.
A bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
Concentrated hydrogen peroxide is remarkably stable considering the amount of potential energy it contains. While medical-grade products are as close as the nearest drugstore, rocket-grade versions can be harder to come by. The purchase is legal, but must be stored inside ventilated aluminum alloy containers in properly shaded areas, such as gasoline or kerosene. The liquid is not flammable like gasoline, but it can cause severe oxidation burns if it comes in contact with exposed skin.
Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used to prevent wounds from becoming infected.
Unlike rocket propellants used to power US missiles and spacecraft, hydrogen peroxide does not ignite and burn to generate thrust. Instead, the concentrated liquid is stored inside a special tank pressurized with nitrogen. At the other end of this tank is a conical rocket engine nozzle. What happens next may require a quick scientific explanation.
Hydrogen peroxide is nothing more than ordinary water (H 2 0 ) that contains extra oxygen atoms, turning it into H 2 0 2 . This hydrogen peroxide wants to release the extra oxygen atom to make the H20 much more stable. When an element such as silver is introduced into the compound, a catalytic and exothermic reaction occurs. This reaction generates significant amounts of heat and steam. Removing the silver catalyst would end the reaction, shutting down the rocket’s engine.
When a catalyst packet containing silver discs is inserted into the concentrated and pressurized liquid, the reaction is instantaneous and powerful. In fact, for every unit of liquid peroxide, over 5,000 units of propulsive energy are created. All that steam must go somewhere, and that’s where the rocket’s nozzle comes into play. The rocket engine directs the propellant through a narrow passage and then out through a conical nozzle. This propels the rocket or missile towards the sky.
Although many rocket systems now use a dual propellant system with a separate oxidant and fuel, hydrogen peroxide engines are still very popular for ground activities. Experimental jet packs for individual riders and booster engines for stunt motorcycles use it as their propellant. Of all the types of rocket fuel available, many consider it the safest, as it is relatively stable, requires no external ignition, and leaves only water in its wake.