The Analysis of Black Powder Substitutes Containing Ascorbic Acid by Ion Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry*


  • *

    Portions of this work were presented at the 9th International Symposium on the Analysis and Detection of Explosives in July 2007 in Paris, France and published in the proceedings in 2008.

  • Portions of this work were also presented at the 60th Anniversary Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, February 18–23, 2008, in Washington, DC.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Gui-hua L. Lang, Ph.D.
ATF National Laboratory Center
MD 20705-1250


Abstract:  Black powder substitutes containing ascorbic acid are a group of low explosives that utilize ascorbic acid as the fuel. The analysis of these powders is complicated by the degradation of ascorbic acid which occurs rapidly in solution and may also occur as the powder ages. Aqueous extracts of both intact powders and postblast residues were analyzed by an existing ion chromatography/mass spectrometry (IC/MS) method used at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Results have shown that while ascorbic acid itself is not detected in this method, its diagnostic degradation products (threonic acid, monohydrated diketogulonic acid, and oxalic acid) can be identified. In addition, anions from the inorganic oxidizers (perchlorate and nitrate) and combustion products such as chloride, chlorate, and nitrite, can be identified within the same experiment. While this IC/MS method shows promise, future modifications are necessary because of limitations in identifying threonate in postblast residues, as well as coeluting compounds observed in postblast residues.