Texas Tech University

Professor Produces TNT With a Bigger Bang

Amanda Bowman

August 1, 2018


Mechanical engineering professor Michelle Pantoya’s research can help metal particles release more of their stored chemical energy.

Texas Tech University's Michelle Pantoya, the J.W. Wright Regents Chairwoman in mechanical engineering and a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, and a group of her colleagues at Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, have shown a nearly 30 percent improvement in the detonation velocity of TNT through the addition of altered aluminum particles.

Michelle Pantoya
Michelle Pantoya

“This is the very first time I've ever seen a metal fuel particle react at timescales relevant to a detonation,” Pantoya said. “It's like the Holy Grail for metal particle combustion because particles like boron, aluminum and silicon have so much more energy stored within them than any explosive. Taking the enormous amount of energy in metal fuel particles and trying to create a way to release some of that energy at timescales that explosives release them could mean tremendous advancements in the way we generate energy for our future.”

Pantoya said this new discovery could not only be used for defense applications, but also as thrust and power for exploring other planets, as well as typical energy needs like heating and cooling a house.

The way Pantoya and her team were able to produce this result was by removing the natural, passivation layer of aluminum and replacing it with a new material, that is an oxidizing salt.

“We strip off the passivation shell, then we put new chemistry around the core to keep the core from spontaneously reacting with the environment, to keep it passivated,” Pantoya said. “These new chemicals also passivate the material, but they will be more responsive to an ignition source that will create a detonation.”

Laser-induced air shock from energetic materials (LASEM) testing was used to test this new composite material at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Graduate student Kelsea Miller, a mechanical engineering major, is continuing the work on this material this summer at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

You can read more about Pantoya's findings here.