Flying to the Mars on Corncobs?

Furfural, the pre-cursor to furfuryl alcohol (FA), is made from agricultural residues. The majority of furfural is made from corncobs. See "Corncobs=Rocket-Power!" (Furfural: Science Behind Rockets)

Furfuryl alcohol was one of components used in hypergolic propellants which are fuels that ignite spontaneously. They also ignite in the absence of oxygen (i.e. in space). These mixtures have been (and can be) used as hypergolic starter fluids to ignite liquid rocket fuels in space .. e.g. when flying to the Mars!

Then: Rocket Fuel

The WAC or WAC Corporal was the first sounding rocket developed by the USA [1]. The main engine, hypergolic aniline+furfuryl alcohol. The Wac Corporal became the first U.S. rocket to reach space [2].

Then: Starter Fluid

The Nike Ajax was the first in the US army's family of guided missiles, and the world's first operational, guided, surface-to-air missile system[3]. It used furfuryl alcohol mixture as a hypergolic starter fluid and a 50-50 kerosene:gasoline aviation fuel.


Amateur rocketry groups across the world are experimenting with FA/white fuming nitric acid (WFNA) propulsion engines. E.g.: Copenhagen Suborbitals' Spectra, a concept liquid rocket engine, uses WFNA as the oxidizer to furfuryl alcohol fuel [4]. The clip below gives a great overview and insight on the choices of rocket propellants and in particular how the FA/WFNA system works.

NB: In the above clip there's a reference made to the first moon lander's navigation/propulsion system: Our mentor, Dr. Karl Zeitsch, was a member of the team that develop the fuel for the RD4 thrusters that were used on the Apollo command and the lunar modules!

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[1] Wikipedia




  • Furfuryl Alcohol
  • Furfural
  • Furfural and its many Byproducts
  • Biofuels
  • Rocketfuels
  • Jetfuels


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