Researcher demonstrates use of 3D printing to convert bleach into non-toxic rocket fuel

A research initiative undertaken by a student at the University of Canterbury Engineering involves using 3D printing to help convert hydrogen peroxide into a safe rocket propellant for the expanding aerospace market.

The interest of the Ph.D. student lies in the intersection of 3D printing and aerospace. Currently, the student is attempting to create a 3D printed catalyst bed for improved use of undiluted hydrogen peroxide as a fuel for rockets that require low to medium intensity thrust.

Chemically, hydrogen peroxide is much less toxic as compared to hydrazine and is commonly used aerospace fuel for low to medium thrust requirement.

In fact, hydrazine is suspected to be carcinogenic and requires extra safety protocols and equipment for use which shoots up the cost of using the fuel.

On the other hand, hydrogen peroxide is largely non-toxic to humans, and finds common household use for bleaching hair and clean wounds.

However, a catalyst is needed to produce thrust from hydrogen peroxide. Precious metals such as silver or platinum is used as a catalyst that swiftly breaks hydrogen peroxide into an energetic gas.

Meanwhile, in the new design, the surface of the ceramic catalyst bed is covered with the catalyst for hydrogen peroxide to flow through. The flow of hydrogen peroxide over the catalyst bed speeds up the decomposition reaction. The reaction involves disassociating the molecule, and converting it into oxygen and water. The breakup of the molecule produces large amount of heat and energy. The heat generated converts water into steam and results in high temperature gas, which when passed through a nozzle provides thrust. Importantly, the objective of the research is to improve the design of the catalyst bed to maximize thrust from hydrogen peroxide.