Multimillion-atom reactive molecular dynamics simulations were used to investigate the mechanisms which control heat-initiated oxidation in aluminum nanoparticles. The simulation results reveal three stages: (1) confined burning, (2) onset of deformation, and (3) onset of small cluster ejections. The first stage of the reaction is localized primarily at the core-shell boundary, where oxidation reactions result in strong local heating and the increased migration of oxygen from the shell into the core. When the local temperature rises above the melting point of alumina (T=2330K), the melting of the shell allows deformation of the overall particle and an increase in heat production. Finally, once the particle temperature exceeds 2800-3000 K, small aluminum-rich clusters are ejected from the outside of the shell. The underlying mechanisms were explored using global and radial statistical analysis, as well as developed visualization techniques and localized fragment analysis.
The three-stage reaction mechanism found here provides insight into the controlling factors of aluminum nanoparticle oxidation, a topic of considerable importance in the energetic materials community.