An unexpected mechanism for fast reaction of Alnanoparticles covered by a thin oxide shell during fast heating is proposed and justified theoretically and experimentally. For nanoparticles, the melting of Al occurs before the oxide fracture. The volume change due to melting induces pressures of 1–2 GPa and causes dynamic spallation of the shell. The unbalanced pressure between the Al core and the exposed surface creates an unloading wave with high tensile pressures resulting in dispersion of atomic scale liquid Al clusters. These clusters fly at high velocity and their reaction is not limited by diffusion (this is the opposite of traditional mechanisms for micron particles and for nanoparticles at slow heating). Physical parameters controlling the melt dispersion mechanism are found by our analysis. In addition to an explanation of the extremely short reaction time, the following correspondence between our theory and experiments are obtained: (a) For the particle radius below some critical value, the flame propagation rate and the ignition time delay are independent of the radius; (b) damage of the oxide shell suppresses the melt dispersion mechanism and promotes the traditional diffusive oxidation mechanism; (c) nanoflakes react more like micron size (rather than nanosize) spherical particles. The reasons why the melt dispersion mechanism cannot operate for the micron particles or slow heating of nanoparticles are determined. Methods to promote the melt dispersion mechanism, to expand it to micron particles, and to improve efficiency of energetic metastable intermolecular composites are formulated. In particular, the following could promote the melt dispersion mechanism in micron particles: (a) Increasing the temperature at which the initial oxide shell is formed; (b) creating initial porosity in the Al; (c) mixing of the Al with a material with a low (even negative) thermal expansion coefficient or with a phase transformation accompanied by a volume reduction; (d) alloying the Al to decrease the cavitationpressure; (e) mixing nano- and micron particles; and (f) introducing gasifying or explosive inclusions in any fuel and oxidizer. A similar mechanism is expected for nitridation and fluorination of Al and may also be tailored for Ti and Mg fuel.
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