Furfural: Science Behind Rockets
Corncobs powering rockets: It may be difficult to imagine, but this happened already in the 1940s!

1st Steps Towards Space: Fueling rockets since the 1940s (Image: DalinYebo)


It may be a challenge to imagine corncobs powering rockets and it may be even more difficult to believe: This happened already in the 1940s!

Corncobs used to be the feedstock of preference to make furfural in the USA and France. Furfural is the platform chemical from which furfuryl alcohol (FA) is made. Furaline, a mixture of FA (41%), methanol (18%), and xylidine (dimethyl aniline; 41%) is a rocket fuel. The system is “hypergolic”: When the furaline comes into contact with the nitric acid, it ignites by itself without external aid[1]. In the early 1940s, the German rocket designers used a hypergolic system of FA (“Fantol”) and nitric acid to ignite their gasoline propelled Enzian and Schmetterling missiles[2].

Furfural: Science Behind Rockets

SO.9000 “Trident, French experimental aircraft (Wikimedia; Bourget museum, in France)

In 1947, the first furaline liquid propellant rocket engine (LPRE) was unveiled for an anti-aircraft missile[3]. Already in 1952 the first manned flight with a furaline rocket-boosted aircraft took place in France[4]. On the 9 September 1954, the first rocket propelled flight of the SO-9000 Trident   was undertaken by SANSCO (now part of EADS)  . The Trident was a prototype interceptor and could achieve a top speed of Mach 1.63. After completion of the test programme, the aircraft was retired to the Musée de l’air et de l’espace at Le Bourget Airport (Paris, France)  . Trident development program was replaced by the development of the Mirage III, which used a different LPRE fuel. Furaline continued to fuel Russian, American and French missiles and rockets.


In 2013, FA continues to be part of hypergolic rocket propulsion systems[5] or rocketry[6].


Furaline was used by:

VERONIQUE rocket (France)

EMERAUDE rocket (France)

CORPORAL rockets (USA)

” … it is only a lack of research which prevents furfural and its derivatives from flooding the world in a stunning variety of different applications.



[1] The chemistry and technology of furfural and its many by-products, Dr. Karl Joachim Zeitsch

[2] walterwerke.co.uk: j.mp/1dG9GGb and http://j.mp/170IWAz

[3] Goolge Books: History of Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines, George Paul Sutton

[4] Google Books: Rocketing Into the Future: The History and Technology of Rocket Planes, Michel van Pelt

[5] 3-Nov-2013, : j.mp/17B5U1D

[6] 3-Nov-2013, Spectra: j.mp/HDNj8J and j.mp/17B6EE4

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