Metal-Water mixtures for Propulsion and Energy-Conversion Applications: Recent Progress and Future Directions

Dilip Sundaram


The metal-water system is attractive for propulsion and energy-conversion applications. Of all metals, aluminum is attractive due to its high energy density, relative safety, and low cost. Experimental studies provide new insight on the combustion and propulsive behaviors. The burning rate is found to be a strong function of both pressure and particle size. Furthermore, there is a wide scatter in the measured pressure exponents due to differences in particle size, pressure, pH, and equivalence ratio. A major problem with Al/H2O mixtures is incomplete combustion and poor impulses, thereby rendering Al/H2O mixtures unsuitable for practical applications. Efforts to improve the performance of Al/H2O mixtures have only met with moderate success. Although experiments have revealed these new trends, not much is offered in terms of the underlying physics and mechanisms. To explore the combustion mechanisms, theoretical models based on energy balance analysis have been developed. These models involve numerous assumptions and many complexities were either ignored or treated simplistically. The model also relies on empirical inputs, which makes it more a useful guide than a predictive tool. Future works must endeavor to conduct a more rigorous analysis of metal-water combustion. Empirical inputs should be avoided and complexities must be properly treated to capture the essential physics of the problem. The model should help us properly understand the experimental trends, offer realistic predictions for unexplored conditions, and suggest guidelines and solutions in order to realize the full potential of metal-water mixtures.

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