Reduced diffusion length scales and increased specific surface areas of nanosized metal fuels have recently demonstrated increased reaction rates for these systems, increasing their relevance in a wide variety of applications. The most commonly employed metal fuel, aluminum, tends to oxidize rapidly near its melting point (660 °C) in addition to undergoing a phase change of the nascent oxide shell. To further expand on the understanding of nanosized metal fuel oxidation, tantalum nanoparticles were studied due to their high melting point (3017 °C) in comparison to aluminum. Both traditional slow heating rate and in-situ high heating rate techniques were used to probe the oxidation of tantalum nanoparticles in oxygen containing environments in addition to nanothermite mixtures. When oxidized by gas phase oxygen, the oxide shell of the tantalum nanoparticles rapidly crystallized creating cracks that may attribute to enhanced oxygen diffusion into the particle. In the case of tantalum based nanothermites, oxide shell crystallization was shown to induce reactive sintering with the metal oxide resulting in a narrow range of ignition temperatures independent of the metal oxide used. The oxidation mechanism was modeled using the Deal-Grove model to extract rate parameters, and theoretical burn times for tantalum based nanocomposites were calculated.
The authors demonstrate the importance of oxide shell crystallization in the oxidation mechanism of Ta nanoparticles and nanothermites.