Perchlorate: what is it?

One of the elements that is part of ammonium perchlorate is perchlorate. However, what is it? Are there other kinds of perchlorate? What are they used for?

The term perchlorate (ClO4-) refers to a group of atoms with a negative charge, specifically, it refers to a mixture between an atom of chlorine and four atoms of oxygen. Perchlorates are typically present in two different forms: solid and liquid (dissolved in water, where they become liquid quickly). They can be found in nature: in the rain in small quantities, but also in Texas and the North of Chile in bigger quantities. It wasn´t expected for the experts to find perchlorates in nature as they are highly explosive when exposed at high temperatures: when they are heated, they begin to produce big quantities of heat over and over again until an explosion is triggered. There are five different types of perchlorates that are used for many various purposes, like herbicides or even rockets.


Magnesium perchlorate

Magnesium perchlorate or Mg(ClO4)2 is one of the five types of perchlorates that we can find as a result of mixing magnesium hydroxide and perchloric acid. This substance is a powerful oxidizer and, even if it´s not flammable, but is able to aggravate a fire and cause other consequences not related to its flammability, such as skin irritation, eye irritation and respiratory track irritation. The reason why it can trigger bigger fires is due to the release of oxygen produced when it reacts with fire.

The main use of magnesium perchlorate is as a drying agent for gas analysis: its purpose is to work as a dessicant to dry gas and air samples. Nonetheless, nowadays it´s not used with this aim that often given the risks and hazards that come from working with perchlorates.

Potassium perchlorate

Potassium perchlorate (KClO4) is another inorganic salt which is part of the perchlorate family. As it happens in other cases, this chemical compound is a very powerful oxidizer and highly reactive. For this reason, its common uses are related to these characteristics: fireworks, missiles, ammunition or solid rocket propellant (although this used has been replaced for ammonium perchlorate). However, potassium perchlorate has also been very useful in medicine for treating hyperthyroidism.

In the same way as we read before, potassium perchlorate can help to spread fires for the creation of oxygen during its combustion. For this reason, it’s adviced to follow strict procedures and rules in order to avoid any kind of incident.


Ammonium perchlorate

Ammonium perchlorate, also known as NH4Cl4, is a chemical inorganic compound achieved through two different methods, after mixing two different elements: ammonium salts and sodium perchlorate, or perchloric acid and ammonia. As the rest of the perchlorates stated in this article, ammonium perchlorate is a powerful oxidizer, and also highly flammable, for what it must be handled with special care and following the safety measures stablished to handle ammonium perchlorate.

The uses of this chemical substance are quite different: fireworks and pyrotechnics, solid rocket fuels and missiles. Even if time ago ammonium perchlorate was a very common substance to use in solid rocket fuels (it would suppose 70% of the fuel in any solid rocket engine), nowadays other chemical compounds are preferred as well as other kind of engines. However, ammonium perchlorate is still very popular in pyrotechnics and defense due to its simplicity and stability.

Sodium perchlorate

Sodium perchlorate or NaClO4 is an inorganic compound that belongs to the perchlorates family. It´s a very soluble substance, that can become liquid quite fast in water or alcohol. One of the most interesting facts about sodium perchlorate is that it´s one of the elements that has been found on the planet Mars.

The properties of sodium perchlorate make it perfect to aim its utilisation towards the creation of other perchlorates, like ammonium perchlorate or potassium perchlorate. Other uses of this element are related to the extraction of DNA as well as hybridization reactions; sodium perchlorate is also a popular blocker of iodine before administration iodinated contrast agents.

Lithium perchlorate

Lithium perchlorate (LiClO4) is an inorganic chemical compound created after mixing sodium perchlorate and lithium chloride, or through electrolysis with lithium chlorate. This perchlorate uses are quite different, as it goes from inorganic chemistry (as an oxygen source in some oxygen generators) to organic chemistry (in the Diels-Alder reactions, Baylis-Hillman reactions, as an electrolyte in lithium ion batteries), and to biochemistry (as a chaotropic agent to denature proteins).

In Aldebarán Sistemas S.L. we are able to provide different kinds of perchlorates following the strictes rules and safety procedures in order to keep our clients safe. Contact us if you need more information, as we will be pleased to answer your questions!