In situ observations of reacting Al/Fe2O3 thermite: Relating dynamic particle size to macroscopic burn time

Michael D. Grapes*, Robert V. Reeves, Kamel Fezzaa, Tao Sun, John M. Densmore, Kyle T. Sullivan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Time-resolved x-ray imaging is used to capture high-resolution images of the Al/Fe2O3 thermite reaction as it proceeds in an extended burn tube. The observed thermite reaction products are generally large, multi-phase composite particles. Image processing algorithms are developed to extract a continuous record of composite particle size as a function of time and distance from the ignition point. Small particles are observed immediately after ignition, followed by a rapid increase in particle size and a gradual decline toward late times. Correlating the dynamic particle size with visible light emission from the reaction, we propose a two-stage mechanism where the combination of early ignition and delayed expansion causes the material closest to the ignition point to undergo substantial coalescence before it begins moving down the tube. We also identify two mechanisms that may contribute to particle size refinement at late times, both based on the collapse of large gas bubbles that are observed preferentially in particles at earlier times. A new approach to extracting burn times from luminous intensity data is explored, and we find that a more nuanced analysis of burn time and luminous intensity may help to improve reactivity assessments when data from in situ studies is unavailable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-263
Number of pages12
JournalCombustion and Flame
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Aluminum
  • Burn time
  • Iron oxide
  • Particle size
  • Thermite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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