1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dynamite

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8243531911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — DynamiteWilliam Richard Eaton Hodgkinson

DYNAMITE (Gr. δύναμις, power), the name given to several explosive preparations containing nitroglycerin (q.v.) which are almost exclusively used for blasting purposes. The first practical application of nitroglycerin in this way was made by A. Nobel in 1863. He soaked gunpowder with the liquid and fired the gunpowder by an ordinary fuse. Later he found that nitroglycerin could be detonated by the explosion of several materials such as fulminate of mercury, the use of which as a detonator he patented in 1867. In 1866–1867 he experimented with charcoal and other substances, and found the infusorial earth known as kieselguhr, which consists mainly of silica (nearly 95%), eminently adapted to the purpose, as it was inert, non-combustible, and after a little heating and preparation very porous, retaining a large amount of nitroglycerin as water is held in a sponge, without very serious exudation on standing. This kieselguhr dynamite is generally made by incorporating three parts of nitroglycerin with one part of the dry earth, the paste being then formed into cylindrical cartridges. This work is done by hand. Generally a small percentage of the kieselguhr is replaced by a mixture containing sodium and ammonium carbonates, talc and ochre. This product is known as dynamite No. 1. Disabilities attaching to kieselguhr dynamite are that when placed in water the nitroglycerin is liable to be exuded or displaced, also that, like nitroglycerin itself, it freezes fairly easily and thawing the frozen cartridges is a dangerous operation. Other substances, e.g. kaolin, tripoli, magnesia alba (magnesium carbonate), alumina, sugar, charcoal, some powdered salts and mixtures of sawdust and salts, have been shown to be absorbents more or less adapted to the purpose of making a dynamite. Charcoal from cork is said to absorb about 90% of its weight of nitroglycerin. With the idea of obtaining greater safety, mixtures have been made of nitroglycerin with wood fibre, charcoal and metallic nitrates. Lithofracteur, for instance, consists of 50% nitroglycerin and a mixture of prepared sawdust, kieselguhr and barium nitrate. Carbonite contains 25% of nitroglycerin, the remainder being a mixture of wood-meal and alkali nitrates, with about 1% of sulphur. Dualin, atlas dynamite and potentite are other modifications.

A convenient form in which nitroglycerin can be made up for blasting purposes, especially in wet ground, is the gelatinous material obtained by the action of nitroglycerin, either alone or with the help of solvents, on low-grade or soluble gun-cottons. It is known as blasting gelatin, and was first made by Nobel by incorporating 6 or 7% of low nitrated cellulose (collodion cotton or soluble gun-cotton) with slightly warmed nitroglycerin. The result is a transparent plastic material, of specific gravity 1·5 to 1·6, which may be kept under water for a long time without appreciable change. It is less sensitive to detonation than ordinary dynamite, and although its explosion is slightly slower it is more powerful than dynamite and much superior to the liquid nitroglycerin. Blasting gelatin also freezes and is sensitive to percussion in this state. Camphor and other substances have been added to blasting gelatin to render it more solid and less sensitive. Some modifications of blasting gelatin, e.g. gelignite, contain wood-meal and such oxygen-containing salts as potassium nitrate. Experience has conclusively shown that dynamites are more satisfactory, quicker, and more intense in action than liquid nitroglycerin.

To prevent nitroglycerin and some of the forms of dynamite from freezing it has been proposed to add to them small quantities of either monochlor-dinitroglycerin or of a nitrated poly-glycerin. The former is obtained by first acting upon glycerin with hydrogen chloride to produce u-chlorhydrin or chlor-propylene glycol, C3H7O2Cl, which is then nitrated as in the case of glycerin. The latter is obtained by heating glycerin for six or seven hours to about 300° C., whereby water is split off in such manner that a diglycerin C6H14O5, for the most part, results. This on nitration in the usual manner gives a product C6H10N4O13, which burns and explodes in a similar manner to ordinary nitroglycerin, but is less sensitive and does not so easily freeze. The mono- and di-nitrates of glycerin have also been proposed as additions to ordinary nitroglycerin (q.v.) for the same purpose.  (W. R. E. H.)