Understanding the Reaction Mechanism of Nanocomposite Thermites
Egan, Garth Christopher
Zachariah, Michael R
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Nanocomposite energetics are a relatively new class of materials that combine nanoscale fuels and oxidizers to allow for the rapid release of large amounts of energy. In thermite systems (metal fuel with metal oxide oxidizer), the use of nanomaterials has been illustrated to increase reactivity by multiple orders of magnitude as a result of the higher specific surface area and smaller diffusion length scales. However, the highly dynamic and nanoscale processes intrinsic to these materials, as well as heating rate dependencies, have limited our understanding of the underlying processes that control reaction and propagation. For my dissertation, I have employed a variety of experimental approaches that have allowed me to probe these processes at heating rates representative of free combustion with the goal of understanding the fundamental mechanisms. Dynamic transmission electron microscopy (DTEM) was used to study the in situ morphological change that occurs in nanocomposite thermite materials subjected to rapid (10^11 K/s) heating. Aluminum nanoparticle (Al-NP) aggregates were found to lose their nanostructure through coalescence in as little as 10 ns, which is much faster than any other timescale of combustion. Further study of nanoscale reaction with CuO determined that a condensed phase interfacial reaction could occur within 0.5-5 µs in a manner consistent with bulk reaction, which supports that this mechanism plays a dominant role in the overall reaction process. Ta nanocomposites were also studied to determine if a high melting point (3280 K) affects the loss of nanostructure and rate of reaction. The condensed phase reaction pathway was further explored using reactive multilayers sputter deposited onto thin Pt wires to allow for temperature jump (T-Jump) heating at rates of ~5x10^5 K/s. High speed video and a time of flight mass spectrometry (TOFMS) were used to observe ignition temperature and speciation as a function of bilayer thickness. The ignition process was modeled and a low activation energy for effective diffusivity was determined. T-Jump TOFMS along with constant volume combustion cell studies were also used to determine the effect of gas release in nanoparticle systems by comparing the reaction properties of CuO and Cu2O.