Unraveling the initial steps of the ignition chemistry of the hypergolic ionic liquid 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium cyanoborohydride ([EMIM][CBH]) with nitric acid (HNO3) exploiting chirped pulse triggered droplet merging†
The composition of the products and the mechanistic routes for the reaction of the hypergolic ionic liquid (HIL) 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium cyanoborohydride ([EMIM][CBH]) and nitric acid (HNO3) at various concentrations from 10% to 70% were explored using a contactless single droplet merging within an ultrasonic levitation setup in an inert atmosphere of argon to reveal the initial steps that cause hypergolicity. The reactions were initiated through controlled droplet-merging manipulation triggered by a frequency chirp pulse amplitude modulation. Utilizing the high-speed optical and infrared cameras surrounding the levitation process chamber, intriguing visual images were unveiled: (i) extensive gas release and (ii) temperature rises of up to 435 K in the merged droplets. The gas development was validated qualitatively and quantitatively with Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) indicating the major gas-phase products to be hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The merged droplet was also probed by pulsed Raman spectroscopy which deciphered features for key functional groups of the reaction products and intermediates (–BH, –BH2, –BH3, –NCO); reaction kinetics revealed that the reaction was initiated by the interaction of the [CBH]− anion of the HIL with the oxidizer (HNO3) through proton transfer. Computations indicate the formation of a van-der-Waals complex between the [CBH]− anion and HNO3 initially, followed by proton transfer from the acid to the anion and subsequent extensive isomerization; these rearrangements were found to be essential for the formation of HCN and N2O. The exoergicity observed during the merging process provides a molar enthalpy change up to 10 kJ mol−1 to the system, which could be sufficient for a significant fraction of the reactants of about 11% to overcome the reaction barriers in the individual steps of the computationally determined minimum energy pathways.