Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Gunpowder Combustion Gas
Name: Krista K.
Status: student
Age: 15
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1/29/2004

What waste gas will be formed when gunpowder is burned?

Gunpowder refers to range of mixtures of charcoal (carbon), sulfur, and potassium or sodium nitrate. The products of reaction are complex, but contain the obvious products of CO2, CO, SO2, N2, nitrogen oxides, and probably other compounds as well. Unlike, say nitrocellulose, the reaction products of gunpowder are ill-defined. In fact only about 50% of the products are gaseous. In contrast to explosives that produce a supersonic shock wave, gunpowder is "just" a rapid combustion, that is the expansion of the gases is sub-sonic. If it were not ancient muzzle loaders would detonate in the shooters face rather than accelerating the projectile toward the target. The web site below provides an interesting history of gunpowder and other explosives.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Chemistry Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory