UDMH! Secret Rocket Fuel!

The latest alarum from that Orthrus of interventionist reporting about North Korean missile capabilities, William Broad and David Sanger of the New York Times, concerns what they deem to be a “rare, potent” rocket fuel that “those who study the issue” believe should be kept out of that strange land or at least blown up (I think maybe that’s what they mean by “take advantage of its volatile properties”) before it reaches a launch pad there. It’s called UDMH, for unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, which they also warn is “highly volatile” and “deadly” and “highly poisonous.” (So is the gasoline in my lawnmower, I’m quite sure, but never mind.) This is rocket fuel, by dang, and it even has a “secret formula.”  Yet Wikipedia, that viper’s den of secret information, offers the following about how UDMH is manufactured, which in my college chemistry days would definitely have been called formulas:

UDMH is produced industrially by two routes. One, based on the Olin Raschig process, involves reaction of chloramine with dimethylamine. This method gives the hydrochloride of the hydrazine:

(CH3)2NH + NH2Cl → (CH3)2NNH2 + HCl

Alternatively, acetylhydrazine can be N-methylated using formaldehyde to give the N,N-dimethyl-N’-acetylhydrazine, which can subsequently be hydrolyzed:

CH3C(O)NHNH2 + 2 CH2O + 2 H2 → CH3C(O)NHN(CH3)2 + 2 H2O
CH3C(O)NHN(CH3)2 + H2O → CH3COOH + H2NN(CH3)2

So, assuming that there might be a few chemical engineers in North Korea who could do much better than the grades I got in chemistry, it’s not unreasonable to guess that they can brew this hooch themselves. Or maybe they could have just bought some directly or through dastardly intermediaries from Arch Chemicals Inc. in Westlake, LA, which advertises its commercial availability on their website.  Who knows? Sure, it’s dangerous (not too dangerous for the folks down in Westlake, of course), but as one of Broad-and-Sanger’s sources who have been studying the issue opines, “the North Korean tolerance for casualties is probably pretty high.”

Right, they don’t value human life the way we do, remember?

Update 9/27: Homebrew it is.


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