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Manufacture of Smokeless Powders and their Forensic Analysis: A Brief Review

NCJ Number
Robert M. Heramb; Bruce R. McCord
Date Published
April 2002
7 pages
This article presents a brief review of the manufacture of smokeless powders and their forensic analysis.
The wide variety of chemical components and different morphologies of smokeless powders make them a challenge for forensic investigators. Different methods for analyzing smokeless powders have emerged but most begin with identifying the powder morphology. The different formulations of smokeless powders make it necessary to continue researching existing methods and developing new methods of analysis for testing the full range of smokeless powders on the market. Smokeless powders were developed in the late 19th century to replace black powder. All smokeless powders fall into one of three categories depending upon their chemical composition: single-based, double-based, and triple-based powders. There are seven major classes of compounds in smokeless propellants: energetics, stabilizers, plasticizers, flash suppressants, deterrents, opacifiers, and dyes. Smokeless propellants also have important morphological characteristics. The shape and size of smokeless propellants have a significant impact on the burning rate and power generation. Smokeless propellants include the common particle shapes of balls, discs, perforated discs, tubes, perforated tubes, and aggregates. In terms of production and distribution, the production of smokeless powders is big business in the United States. Approximately 10 million pounds of commercial smokeless powder is produced in the United States, most of it sold to domestic and foreign militaries, although some is sold commercially in the United States. Figures, references