Oxadiazole has a calculated detonation pressure 50 percent higher than that of TNT. Photo: DOE/LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY

Trinitrotoluene, or TNT, is an explosive compound that came to define the 20th century.

Now a group of government scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have unveiled what they see as its 21st century replacement: bis(12,2,4-oxadadiazole)bis(methylene)dinitrate.

Though it may be harder to abbreviate, it packs more of a punch and is "melt-cast," according to the study in the American Chemical Society’s journal Organic Process Research and Development.

“One major challenge was coming up with a formula that would significantly surpass the explosive energy of TNT, but still have melt-casting capability… Something with non- or low-toxicity that has the right melting point so it can be liquefied and cast, for use in a variety of munitions,” David Chavez, one of the Los Alamos chemists who developed the compound, said. “When designing a molecule to be melt-castable, yet high-performing, you typically encounter… many obstacles."

The molecule is 24 atoms carefully arranged and packed with nitrogen, according to the paper.

The early steps in creating the process produced just 4 percent yields, which was prohibitively wasteful and inefficient, but eventually the scientists improved the process to a yield of 44 percent.

The compound boasts an additional 50 percent explosive power, in addition to its adaptable “melt-cast” properties, according to the team.

However, further production at kilogram-level amounts needs to be the product of further testing that includes explorations of its explosive potential and toxicity levels, the scientists add.

It may have some competition. For instance, a new recipe for diaminoglyoxime, or DAG, was reported in the same journal in January by scientists also from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, with partners from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as previously reported in Laboratory Equipment.