Energetic materials contain chemical energy that, when released, can explode, like fireworks or rocket fuel, for example. Energetic materials at the nanoscale are showing promise for military applications.

Nanoparticles have more surface area that is in contact between the particles of the different chemicals that make up an explosive. After a reaction is initiated (that is, the explosion is set off), this greater surface area causes a faster reaction rate, which makes for a more powerful explosion.

This work could come in handy in weapons systems that would utilize greater amounts of energy, making them more lethal. By working at the nanoscale, weapons designers can also control the rate at which energy is released by changing the size of the nanoparticles, allowing the designers to customize the explosive for each application.

For example, a weapon designed to penetrate into the ground to destroy a bunker may need an explosive with a different reaction rate than a weapon designed to explode and project shrapnel above ground troops.


An example of this technology is the use of aluminum nanoparticles in explosives that the Air Force is developing. When you add nano-aluminum powder to explosives, you can make weapons smaller and more powerful. These weapons are useful in aircraft with limited space, such as remote control drones. Researchers are developing techniques that allow weapons manufacturers to add a greater amount of nano-aluminum powder to an explosive using a solvent.

Not only weapons and battle vehicles are benefitting from nanotechnology. Researchers have developed a nanoparticle composite of zinc and carbon that heats itself up by means of electrochemical oxidation when it’s exposed to air. This technology is used to heat soldier rations, the so-called meal, ready-to-eat (MRE).