Photo credit: Serious Eats
Scientifically speaking, potassium chlorate is a compound containing potassium, chlorine and oxygen atoms, with the molecular formula KClO3. In its pure form, it is a white crystalline substance. It is the most common chlorate in industrial use. Continue reading to see five experiments you shouldn’t try at home.
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On the industrial scale, potassium chlorate is produced by passing chlorine into hot milk of lime and subsequently adding potassium chloride (Liebig process). The electrolysis of KCl in aqueous solution is also used sometimes, in which the chloride ions formed at the anode react with KOH in situ. The low solubility of KClO3 in water causes the salt to conveniently isolate itself from the reaction mixture by simply precipitating out of solution.
4. Sulfuric Acid
Potassium chlorate was one key ingredient in early firearms percussion caps (primers). It continues in that application, where not supplanted by potassium perchlorate. Chlorate-based propellants are more efficient than traditional gunpowder and are less susceptible to damage by water. However, they can be extremely unstable in the presence of sulfur or phosphorus and are much more expensive.
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When mixed with a suitable fuel, it may form an explosive material, a so-called Sprengel explosive. The hygroscopic and slightly weaker sodium chlorate is sometimes used as a safer and less expensive substitute for potassium chlorate. In World War I, mixes of potassium chlorate with plasticizers (such as wax) were the most common type of plastic explosive used, often filling grenades and other munitions.
2. Gummy Bear
Potassium chlorate is often used in high school and college laboratories to generate oxygen gas; it is a far cheaper source than a pressurized or cryogenic oxygen tank. Potassium chlorate will readily decompose if heated in contact with a catalyst, typically manganese (IV) dioxide (MnO2). Thus, it may be simply placed in a test tube and heated over a burner. If the test tube is equipped with a one-holed stopper and hose, warm oxygen can be drawn off.
1. Gigantic Gummy Bear
Potassium chlorate is used in chemical oxygen generators (also called chlorate candles or oxygen candles), employed as oxygen-supply systems of e.g. aircraft, space stations, and submarines, and has been responsible for at least one plane crash. A fire on the space station Mir was also traced to this substance. The decomposition of potassium chlorate was also used to provide the oxygen supply for limelights.