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Decontamination of Rocket Fuel Spills


The Development of a Method and Creation of a Prototype Mobile Unit for Remediation of Soils Contaminated by Highly Toxic Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine Upon Testing, Launching, Disposal of Missiles and Accidents

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-RED/Remediation and Decontamination/Environment
  • ENV-APC/Air Pollution and Control/Environment

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Institute of problems of chemical-energetic technologies Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia, Altay reg., Biysk

Supporting institutes

  • Boreskov Institute of Catalysis, Russia, Novosibirsk reg., Akademgorodok\nBICSULF Ltd., Russia, Novosibirsk reg., Novosibirsk\nMakeyev Design Bureau of State Rocket Center, Russia, Chelyabinsk reg., Miass


  • Fraunhofer Institute Chemische Technologie, Germany, Pfinztal\nEuropean Materials Research Society (EMRS), France, Strasbourg

Project summary

The goal of this project is the development and construction prototype mobile technological unit for decontamination of spills of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) originated from launching, testing and disposal of missiles, and technological operations involving UDMH.

Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles and rockets, e.g RS-18, RS-20, Cyclone, Kosmos, Proton launched from territory of Russia and Republic of Kazakhstan are fuelled by unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH or heptyl). It is a very toxic fuel. Its maximum allowable concentration is 0.001 mg/m3 in air and 0.005 mg/l in water. Therefore, the problem of the environment protection from adverse effect of UDMH during launching of the rockets and missiles and technological operations is very urgent.

The operation of missilery implies a real danger of emergencies due to accidental spills of UDMH. Unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine is easily dissolved in water, readily adsorbed by various materials. Under the action of air oxygen it undergoes chemical transformations to other toxic compounds: dimethylamine, formaldehyde, and carcinogens such – nitrosodimethylamine.

Residual amounts of UDMH in falling rocket stages cause dangerous contamination of the soil in some areas of Republic of Kazakhstan and Novosibirsk and Altai Regions of Russian Federation, where mother missiles of space rockets fall, rocket fuel residues, attaining 1.5 tons in the tanks of mother missiles of each “Proton” rocket launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The launches of rockets from Plesetsk Space-Launch Complex lead to similar problems in Archangelsk and Murmansk Regions. For prevention of the heptyl environmental damage at the above-mentioned territories of RF and exclusion of transborder transfer of heptyl vapors to neighbor Scandinavian countries, effective technology for decontamination of fallen spent rocket stages and remediation of the contaminated soil is required.

Currently proposed thermal, chemical (with the use of chlorinated reagents) and biological methods of soil decontamination from UDMH do not provide sufficient cleanup efficiency and lead to the formation of secondary pollutants, so these methods cannot be recommended for application from environment safety viewpoint. In addition, these methods have high capital costs, are fairly labor consuming, and cannot be realized in a mobile unit.

In the present project we propose for the first time to develop a new economical and environmentally friendly mobile UDMH processing unit for decontamination of UDMH and remediation of soil, based on the use of special reagents - urea derivatives.

The originality and novelty of the proposed approach are due to the fact that easily available and non-toxic compounds will be used for chemical remediation of soils. Furthermore, their reactions with UDMH yield non-toxic nitrogenous compounds that are effective mineral fertilizers facilitating revegetation of the top layer of soil upset by the adverse effects of UDMH.

The main result of the project will be development and construction of a prototype decontamination mobile unit, based on a new method, for neutralization of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine spills originating from testing, launching and utilization of rocket machinery. These decontamination units will allow the soil remediation in Regions adjacent to Baikonur and Plesetsk Space-Launch Complexes and exclusion of transborder transfer of heptyl vapors to Scandinavian countries

Successful accomplishment of the project will provide the development of new technological approaches for solution of the global international problem – utilization of off-specification UDMH at the sites of its stationary storage with the formation of useful products.

The participating institutions are planning to cover the results obtained upon technology development with Russian and International patents.

Successful accomplishment of the project will be based on high professional level of participating institutions in the following fields:

  • Development of technologies for heptyl production and processing - IPCET.
  • Modern physicochemical methods for studying chemical processes – BIC.
  • Marketing and commercialization results of scientific research – BICSULF.

BICSULF is a small-scale enterprise created by BIC in the frame of “START” program realized by Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises. The main activities of BICSULF is implementation of innovations and commercialization of high technologies.

The participating institutions have positive experience in development of technologies for environment friendly utilization of various rocket fuels. In the frame of the ISTC projects # 959 and # 1632, the efficient collaboration links have been adjusted, the rich experience of joint research has been gained.

In order to select the optimal compositions of the neutralizing agents and the reaction conditions, kinetic dependencies of the UDMH reactions with urea derivatives will be studied by BIC researchers in cooperation with IPCET. Final reaction products and intermediates will be reliably identified with the application of the complex of physicochemical methods. The final goal of this project stage is the formulation of recommendations on the composition of the optimal neutralizing agent, conditions of its storage, transportation and application.

At the second stage, pilot scale experiments on decontamination of UDMH will be performed at SRC under conditions closely simulating real UDMH spills: with different types of soils, climatic conditions (soil and air temperature, humidity, precipitations, etc.), and various surfaces (asphalt, concrete, metal), and rocket machinery materials (tanks, pipelines).

The results of these experiments will be used for making necessary adjustment to the formula and method of preparation of the neutralizing agent. Then, technical specifications for the neutralizing agent will be formulated and approved.

At the final project stage, a pilot batch of the neutralizing agent will be prepared. A standard decontamination watering tanker based on truck ZIL-131 will be adapted for decontamination of realistic UDMH spills and equipped with necessary analytical equipment. Full-scale validation tests of the prototype unit will be carried out under field conditions in coordination with authorized institutions.

This project will enable a number of weapon industry scientists, engineers and technicians in Russia to redirect their activities for the solution of international problems of environmental protection. Cooperation with foreign collaborators will help to integrate former weapons scientists from Russia into the international scientific community broadening their activities and disseminating this technology.

Participation of foreign collaborators in the project will be based on the exchange of information, discussion of the results, consultations on the application of the developed technology in foreign countries for solution of similar problems and participation in joint tests of the prototype decontamination unit.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

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