Cellulose (9004-34-6) is a polymer consisting of the basic unit C6H10O5 repeated a thousand times or more. It is the principal constituent of vegetable cell walls accounting for 30% of all vegetable matter. Nitrating cellulose with mixed acid (nitric acid catalyzed with sulphuric acid) results in a series of products collectively called nitrocellulose (9004-70-0) syn. nitrocotton (in reference to a major commercial source of cellulose: cotton) in which from one to three nitro groups (-NO2) replace one or more of the three hydroxyl groups (-OH) present on each polymeric unit of cellulose. Nitrocelluloses range from around 7.65% to a theoretical maximum of 14.14% nitrogen by weight which corresponds to cellulose dodecanitrate. Low nitrogen forms (pyroxylin) are used extensively as the basis of coatings, plastics, and fibres while the higher nitrogen forms are used as explosives. Nitrocellulose is insoluble in water but easily dissolved in many organic solvents.


Ignition Source Dangerous Good Amyl Acetate Polymeric Unit Vegetable Matter 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Malcolm A. Fox

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