Safer fuels by integrating polymer theory into design

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Science  02 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6256, pp. 32
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9827

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For the past few decades, the civil aviation industry has increased its efforts to prevent fuel fires initiated by aviation crashes by improving fuel safety and handling. These fires are estimated to be responsible for 40% of fatalities, corresponding to approximately 500 to 1000 deaths that could be minimized annually with improved fire-safe fuel (1). Fuel fires are also increasingly becoming a hazard to homeland security, as seen in the example of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers (2). The mist is much more flammable than the liquid, and antimisting kerosene (AMK) interferes with mist formation by incorporating a low concentration (<0.3 weight percent) of high molecular weight polymer; (FM-9) into Jet-A fuel (3). However, routine handling (e.g., passage through pumps) (see the photo) breaks the polymer chain through hydrodynamic tension, and it becomes inadequate for mist suppression (4). The challenge is to find a mist-control polymer that is stable at handling conditions. On page 72 of this issue, Wei et al. (5) show how telechelic polymers that break and reassemble can be effective mist suppressors under real handling and fuel-injection conditions.