An eco-friendly explosive might sound like a contradiction in terms (what next? solar-powered Tasers? Fair Trade plutonium?) but scientists at the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are claiming to have made just that.

By using new ionic liquids (molten salts that become liquid at low temperatures) instead of traditional compounds, boffins have created explosive compounds that are purer, less polluting and less likely to safer to react violently (ie go off accidentally) when subjected to heat or impacts.

Mine over matter

The research team claims that this will lead to greener explosives for the mining industry, although the fact that the development was carried out at America's leading national security laboratory implies that eco-friendly explosives will soon find their way into the superpower's arsenal.

There is a glimmer of hope for more peaceful applications though. The process developed by the Livermore team could also help with the production of plastics, pharmaceuticals, paints, and even with dissolving cellulose, renewable plant fibre touted as a new 'smart' material for use in tiny flying robots, micro-electromechanical systems, biosensors and flexible electrical displays.