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Energetic Nanocomposites

Most people associate explosives with substances such as dynamite, TNT, RDX, and HMX -- common high-explosives used in a variety of blasting applications. Many people mistakenly assume that such nitrogen-rich hydrocarbons would necessarily be used in a building demolition, just because cutter charges used in conventional demolition work use such compounds.

In fact, the architect of a covert demolition would have a large menu of violently energetic chemical reactions to choose from. One such class of reactions are the aluminothermic reactions, such as thermite, in which finely powdered aluminum is oxidized by reducing an oxide of another metal, such as iron, copper, magnesium, and barium. Numerous lines of evidence suggest that such preparations were in fact used to destroy the Twin Towers and Building 7.

Defenders of the World Trade Center collapse theory have dismissed the use of aluminothermics in the demolition of the skyscrapers with the argument that aluminothermic reactions are too slow to have been used used to cut the buildings' structural steel with the speed and precision necessary to bring the buildings down. There are several problems with this argument:

  • It describes aluminothermic reactions as being too slow to have brought about the buildings' precipitous falls, while assuming that the far slower-acting and much more random building fires could have done so.
  • It assumes that aluminothermic charges would have to work in the same way as conventional cutter charges, ignoring, for example, the ability of thermite to rapidly melt though thick steel members under the the influence of gravity.
  • It ignores the cumulative effects of widespread attack of such large buildings by aluminothermic incindiaries. Even if the individual charges didn't cut through steel members, the overpressures generated by the confluence of hundreds of charges rapidly elevating temperatures and vaporizing moisture would be sufficient to literally blow the buildings apart -- such as we see in the mushrooming of the Twin Towers.
  • It ignores the existence of "super-thermites" or energetic nano-composites, in which the aluminothermic preparation is engineered to accelerate the reaction rate such that they become just as explosive as conventional high-explosives.

As Kevin Ryan points out in his 2008 article documenting connections between NIST and energetic nano-composites, the development of such preparations for military uses has been an active area of US government-sponsored research since the mid-1990s. In that article Ryan provides an introduction to the the topic:

e x c e r p t
title: The Top Ten Connections Between NIST and Nano-Thermites
authors: Kevin Ryan

This was most probably accomplished through the use of nano-thermites, which are high-tech energetic materials made by mixing ultra fine grain (UFG) aluminum and UFG metal oxides; usually iron oxide, molybdenum oxide or copper oxide, although other compounds can be used (Prakash 2005, Rai 2005). The mixing is accomplished by adding these reactants to a liquid solution where they form what are called "sols", and then adding a gelling agent that captures these tiny reactive combinations in their intimately mixed state (LLNL 2000). The resulting "sol-gel" is then dried to form a porous reactive material that can be ignited in a number of ways.

The high surface area of the reactants within energetic sol-gels allows for the far higher rate of energy release than is seen in "macro" thermite mixtures, making nano-thermites high explosives as well as pyrotechnic materials (Tillitson et al 1999). Sol-gel nano-thermites, are often called energetic nanocomposites, metastable intermolecular composites (MICs) or superthermite (COEM 2004, Son et al 2007), and silica is often used to create the porous, structural framework (Clapsaddle et al 2004, Zhao et al 2004). Nano-thermites have also been made with RDX (Pivkina et al 2004), and with thermoplastic elastomers (Diaz et al 2003). But it is important to remember that, despite the name, nano-thermites pack a much bigger punch than typical thermite materials.

The citations in the article's extensive References section include many by U.S. national laboratories that perform research sponsored by the Department of Defense. This Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL] publication explains that the nano-composites are engineered to have the explosive power of conventional high-explosives while being superior in other respects.

e x c e r p t
title: Nanoscale Chemistry Yields Better Explosives
Monomolecular materials such as TNT work fast and thus have greater power than composites, but they have only moderate energy densities-commonly half those of composites. "Greater energy densities versus greater power—that's been the traditional trade-off," says Simpson. "With our new process, however, we're mixing at molecular scales, using grains the size of tens to hundreds of molecules. That can give us the best of both worlds-higher energy densities and high power as well."

The higher a material's energy density, the less the quantity of it required to produce a given level of destruction. The higher energy density, along with other attributes such as the existance of stable forms applicable as surface coatings, could easily make such energetic aluminothermic nonocomposites, or "super-thermites", a most attractive option to the planners of the World Trade Center's destruction.

And use such materials they did, is the conclusion that jumps from the solid from the 2009 scientific paper, Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe. The paper, described here. is a detailed analysis showing that the chips are such a material, based on their microscopic structure, chemical structure, and thermal behavior.

page last modified: 2010-12-18
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Illustration from publication of Lawrence Livermore Laboratry describing the explosiveness of nano-composite aluminothermics
Micrograph showing 30-nanometer aluminum particles mixed with iron oxide particles