Fulminates are chemical compounds which include the fulminate ion. The fulminate ion, CNO−
is a pseudohalic ion, acting like a halogen with its charge and reactivity. Due to the instability of the ion, fulminate salts are friction-sensitive explosives. The best known is mercury(II) fulminate, which has been used as a primary explosive in detonators. Fulminates can be formed from metals, such as silver and mercury, dissolved in nitric acid and reacted with ethanol. It is largely the presence of the weak single nitrogen-oxygen bond which leads to its instability. Nitrogen very easily forms a stable triple bond to another nitrogen atom, forming gaseous nitrogen.
Fulminates were discovered by Edward Charles Howard in 1800. The use of fulminate gunpowder for firearms was first demonstrated by a Scottish minister, A. J. Forsyth, who was granted the patent to it in 1807. Joshua Shaw then made the transition to their use in metallic encapsulations, to form a percussion cap, but did not patent his invention until 1822.
In the 1820s, the organic chemist Justus Liebig discovered silver fulminate (Ag-CNO) and Friedrich Wöhler discovered silver cyanate (Ag-OCN). The fact that these substances have the same chemical composition led to an acrid dispute, which was not resolved until Jöns Jakob Berzelius came up with the concept of isomers.
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