How do fireworks work?

Ammonium perchlorate is not only used as a rocket propellant, but also as an oxidizer in the fireworks industry. Actually, nowadays this chemical substance is more commonly used in fireworks and missiles for its simplicity and easy way to use. Have you ever wondered how fireworks work?


When were fireworks created?

It is believed that the first fireworks were created in China with just bamboo and fire. The way it worked was very simple: a person would throw a bamboo stalk to the fire, making it explode because of the overheating inside the air pockets of the bamboo stalk. This process was used to scare off evil spirits and protect themselves.

However, this happened a long time before the actual fireworks were created: it wasn´t until between the year 600 or 900 A.D. when, in China, an alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal, achieving the first gunpowder that was used to fill bamboo sticks, having fireworks as a result.

Although they were created during the first century, they didn´t arrive to Europe until de 13th century, being used for religious ceremonies, for festivals, public parties and, in general, for entertainment. In this way, their uses went from making their castles glow with the light of the fireworks for attracting people to different political speeches.

What are the components of fireworks?

What are the components of fireworks? How do fireworks get their colours? What are the different roles of every compound that we can find in fireworks?

Fireworks work by using a mixture of fuel, an oxidizer, a binder, a chlorine donor and a colour producer:

  • Fuel: this element is used in order to provide power to fireworks. It has a composition similar to the one used in gunpowder, as it´s commonly composed of perchlorate nitrate (75% of the formula), charcoal (15%) and sulfur (10%).
  • Oxidizer: oxidizers are used to help the fuel work efficiently by creating oxygen during its combustion. In fireworks, common oxidizers are nitrates, chlorates and perchlorates.
  • Binder: binders are used to stick materials together. Dextrin and starch dampened with water are widely used for this purpose, helping the elements of the firework stick together.
  • Chlorine donor: chlorine donors strengthen the colour of the firework. As to achieve this, oxidizers like chlorates and perchlorates are used.
  • Colours producer: to produce the colours that distinguish fireworks, metal compounds that produce colours when burned are used.


How do fireworks get their colours?

As we stated in the last parragraph, fireworks colours are achieved by using metal compounds that produce different colours when burned. Some of the metals used with this aim are the ones that follow:

  • Strontium salts: strontium salts such as strontium nitrate, strontium carbonate and strongtium sulfate are used to produce the red colour.
  • Calcium salts: some of the calcium salts utilize to produce orange are calcium carbonate, calcium chloride and calcium sulfate.
  • Sodium salts: we make use of sodium salts (sodium nitrate, sodium oxalate and cryolite) to create the yellow colour in fireworks.
  • Barium salts: barium salts produce a green colour when burned. Some of the ones used in pyrotechnics are barium nitrate, barium carbonate, barium chloride, and barium chlorate.
  • Copper salts: to create a blue colour, copper salts like copper chloride, copper carbonate and copper oxide are utililised.
  • Copper and strontium compounds: we can also mix these two elements to produce purple.
  • Silver: for getting silver colour we apply white hot magnesium and aluminum to the firework compound.
  • White: finally, if we want to achieve a white colour for our firework, we should use burning metals like magnesium, aluminum and titanium.

Use of ammonium perchlorate in pyrotechnics

The use of ammonium perchlorate in pyrotechnics is related to its oxidizer characteristics. In this way, as we could read before, fireworks have an oxidizer element, being this one a chlorate or a perchlorate. Commonly, ammonium nitrate and ammonium perchlorate are used with this aim. The way it works is by burning, creating oxygen that mixes with the fuel, helping the firework leave the ground thanks to the thrust force produced. Another use of ammonium perchlorate in pyrotechnics is chlorine donor to accentuate the colours of the fireworks created.

In Aldebarán Sistemas S.L. we produce, manufacture and distribute ammonium perchlorate with different uses, above all for the military industry and pyrotechnics. We are capable of helping you to achieve your goals in this matter by delivering an outstanding service, just contact us and we will provide you more information!