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Old 10-25-2018, 08:31 AM   #11
mlangsdorf
 
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
To make smokeless powder, you need a chemical industry. The minimum requirement is to be able to produce nitric acid in quantity, and that's non-trivial. The modern method uses the Haber Process, but it's probably possible to do the job using saltpetre, although I don't know how that would best be done.
The original Haber process was a benchtop system that produced 125mL of ammonia per hour, developed in 1909. You need a full industrial plant if you intend to fight WWI, but a couple of liters a day is probably adequate for a small settlement.

The big concern is the scale of production but the purity of the results, as malloyd discussed at length.
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Old 10-25-2018, 08:55 AM   #12
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

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the potential for mutant camels, emus, and rabbits?
No mutant koalas? I'm disappointed. They could mutate into obligate carnivores and drop on unsuspecting people from their old gum trees.
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Old 10-25-2018, 09:09 AM   #13
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

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No mutant koalas?
Australia is a big place. Koalas live to the setting's east and north. 500km+
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They could mutate into obligate carnivores and drop on unsuspecting people from their old gum trees.
I can envisage Drop Bears being the bane of grazers (sheep farmers) around Dubbo and Armidale. And they'll make the ruins of Sydney even more fun.
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Old 10-25-2018, 12:24 PM   #14
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

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Originally Posted by Luke Bunyip View Post
Australia, with no central government, drought, sea level rise, and the potential for mutant camels, emus, and rabbits? Wasted Civilisation, perchance?
Well, are there states, or groups of states with mostly friendly relations, with a population in the tens of millions who mostly die in their own bed, and the ability to order hundreds of tons of goods from around the world and be pretty sure they will arrive within a year? Is taxation a fairly orderly and predictable thing? Is it shocking and unusual, provoking outpourings of support, when a city is destroyed? If the answer is "yes" then south-west Australia is part of Civilization, like the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, not the Wasteland, like North China during the Ming-Quing wars. If taxation is the two competing gangs of thugs who think your village owes them all the food, drink, money, and sex they want, you are probably in the Wasteland.

I think that most AtE settings will have someone in Civilization manufacturing smokeless in quantity, but in the Wasteland I would expect manufacturing to be small-scale and frequently interrupted when a cache of salvaged materials runs out or someone gets sloppy and blows themselves and all their students up, because I have dozens of examples of families making black powder from raw materials on a backwoods farm, but I don't know anyone regularly making propellant like that.

S.A. Fisher is a bit more optimistic because he uses different heuristics and knows different things than I do.
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Old 10-25-2018, 01:14 PM   #15
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

Two handy sources for sulphuric acid and nitrates are respectively, car batteries and shearing sheds. Depending on the exact tech level and location.

[Edit]
Gib board/plaster board is a source of sulphur (tonnes per house)
The TV series "Rough Science" has a lot of campfire level chemistry using salvaged material. Including black powder, radiation detectors and nitric acid. I think it's findable on youtube.
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Last edited by (E); 10-25-2018 at 01:26 PM.
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Old 10-25-2018, 08:38 PM   #16
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

I think another good indication is that smokeless powders were invented in the 1860s, but most militaries didn't start adopting them until the 1880s, and a country as industrialized as the United States didn't adopt them until 1906. Despite having fought the Spanish American War against an opponent who had and having gotten plenty of feedback from the field commanders on what a disadvantage that was. If 19th century nations with intact industrial bases didn't jump to do it even when the tactical advantages were well known, that's a strong clue there are some substantial difficulties in there.
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Old 10-25-2018, 09:14 PM   #17
mlangsdorf
 
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

The Krag-Jorgensen was a smokeless powder rifle adopted by the US Army in 1894, with initial bids 1892. Poudre B was developed in 1884 as the first successful rifle powder and every country started developing smokeless cartridges as soon as they got the recipe.

Admittedly, it took 40 years from the first synthesis of smokeless powder to Poudre B. But it took several hundred years to go from the first gonnes to the first lever action rifles, and I wouldn't tell the players in my AtE game that they couldn't make Henry rifle knock-offs.
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Old 10-25-2018, 09:50 PM   #18
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

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Originally Posted by (E) View Post
Two handy sources for sulphuric acid and nitrates are respectively, car batteries and shearing sheds. Depending on the exact tech level and location.

[Edit]
Gib board/plaster board is a source of sulphur (tonnes per house)
The TV series "Rough Science" has a lot of campfire level chemistry using salvaged material. Including black powder, radiation detectors and nitric acid. I think it's findable on youtube.
Noice. Shearing sheds, check... car batteries, check.

I'll check it out. Might learn how to get sulphur out of plasterboard.
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Old 10-26-2018, 09:06 AM   #19
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

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Originally Posted by Luke Bunyip View Post
Might learn how to get sulphur out of plasterboard.
Well, my search was worth it just for the amusement value. I found one site with a simple four-step process:

1) Roast the gypsum in an oven to drive off the water from the hydrated crystals. Sure, no problem.

2) Heat the gypsum in a kiln (600-900 C) in the presence of a reducing atmosphere like hydrogen or carbon monoxide. Hm, okay, still doable. We can get a kiln. Potters are a thing.

3) "Employ a catalyst made up of vanadium pentoxide and an alkali metal sulfate supported on small silica beads at high temperature."
Yes, my scavengers of the Wasteland, desperate enough to try mixing their own black powder, will just whip up some vanadium pentoxide. Or maybe just order it online from Fisher Scientific. At least they've got plenty of sand to make some silica beads (as long as those don't have to be particularly pure or uniform)...

4) Reduce the sulfur dioxide to sulfur.
Which the US Dept of Energy suggests doing with a cerium oxide catalyst, handy if you used CO for your reducing atmosphere as it aids a redox reaction to turn that and the SO2 into sulfur and carbon dioxide. I think you'll probably find the cerium right next to the vanadium in those rusting wrecks along the desert highways.
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Old 10-26-2018, 12:17 PM   #20
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Default Re: [AtE] Black Powder vs Smokeless

Incidentally the powder isn't necessarily the hardest part of making a smokeless powder round, you also need to think about primers. You can set off black powder with pretty much anything that will make a spark, but smokeless powder is a bit harder.

Even purpose designed black powder substitutes are unreliable in flint or wheel locks (they're intended for caplocks). Unsensitized nitrocellulose powders will be worse. Back in scouts when we tried nitrocellulose guitar picks as fire starters (they worked reasonably well, but burn out *very* fast), even a ferrocerium rod didn't reliably ignite them with one spark, I wouldn't be surprised if a steel spark failed more often than not.
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