Fast reactions with nano- and micrometer aluminum: A study on oxidation versus fluorination

Kyle W. Watson, Michelle L. Pantoya, Valery I. Levitas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

164 Scopus citations


The use of fluorine as an oxidizing agent in aluminum (Al)-based thermite reactions yields higher peak pressures and an increase in gas production compared with oxygen-containing oxidizers, such as molybdenum trioxide (MoO3). Thus fluorination reactions have the potential to excel in situations that require high pressures and flame speeds. This study compares the combustion behaviors of Al/Teflon, Al/MoO3/Teflon, and Al/MoO3 in an effort to determine the effects that the replacement of oxygen with fluorine has on the reaction dynamics in both open and confined burning configurations. Data were collected from pressure sensors and high-speed imaging. The mass percent of Al was varied from 10 to 90% to study the effects of composition. The composites were then further tested at the optimum stoichiometry using either 50 nm or 1-3 μm Al to examine the effect of Al particle size. The addition of Teflon in an open configuration hinders the reaction due to a loss of liberated gas. Confining the reaction enables the trapped gases to enhance convection, yielding increased flame speeds. For confined conditions, the reactions containing Teflon exhibit higher peak pressures but lower flame speeds than the reactions with MoO3. These results imply that a direct relationship between generated gas pressures and flame speeds does not generally exist when comparing different oxidizers. The theoretically predicted relationship for the relative flame speed versus relative particle size based on the melt-dispersion mechanism agrees with experimental data for all Al particle sizes and for the fluorination reaction. Particle synthesis parameters are suggested that could be controlled to enable micrometer-scale Al particles to achieve the performance of nanoscale Al particles. This is of significant practical importance, because nanoparticles are 30 to 50 times more expensive than the micrometer particles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619-634
Number of pages16
JournalCombustion and Flame
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Aluminum particle combustion
  • Flame speeds
  • Fluorination
  • Melt-dispersion mechanism
  • Reaction mechanisms
  • Thermites


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