Development of Pyrophoric Foam Materials for Environmentally-Benign Pyrotechnics

Dr. Zhaohua Luan | U.S. Army RDECOM-Army Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC)



Pyrophoric iron materials have long been known as the primary pyrotechnic charge in pyrophoric penetrators, ammunition training round markers, and aerial decoy devices against heat-seeking missiles, etc. For example, a known type of decoy flare reported in the literature is constructed with pyrophoric iron coated onto steel foils.1,2 The process to produce the materials and fabricate the finished items, however, is extremely corrosive, cost-prohibitive, and suffers from various reproducibility issues. In addition, the residue left on training ranges after steel foils testing is notoriously difficult to collect and certify for recycling. In response to the problems posed by the more common iron pyrophorics, this effort aims to continue development of ARDEC-patented, environmentally benign nanostructured pyrophoric foam materials. More specifically, the project will develop at least one defined pyrotechnic formulation and prototype for such application as an air-sensitive flare or tracer. A preliminary sustainability analysis will be conducted in parallel to examine the impact of the prototype items on the environment and lifecycle supportability in comparison with the legacy systems containing known toxic chemicals and/or manufactured through hazardous processes. 

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Technical Approach

This effort will be conducted as three separate but parallel tasks to address a number of technical issues.

Task 1. Synthesis optimization and scale-up production. This includes primarily the evaluation of various precursor materials and processes to produce the pyrophoric foams at a meaningful scale without employment of any hazardous processes such as chemical leaching.

Task 2. Development of processing and loading techniques. This will consist of the design of prototype bodies and loading procedure for pyrophoric foam. A number of well-established methods found in various Mil-Specs for comparable systems will be employed and examined.

Task 3: Preliminary assessment of environmental impact. Once verified, one or a set of downselected materials and/or the end products will be submitted to the US Army Public Health Center (PHC) for the required environmental screening (e.g., Ames Test, aquatic toxicity, acute toxicity).

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This newly-discovered class of energetic materials was developed solely by the U.S. Army ARDEC and possesses advantageous physiochemical properties, which offers a great option for fabricating environmental-benign pyrotechnic systems with improved performance. The foam materials can be synthesized from materials such as wheat flour and iron oxalate hydrate which are environmentally benign, while its end products upon combustion are merely iron oxide and carbon dioxide which are natural to the environment.


1 Huber, D. L. Small, 2005, 1(5), 482-501.

2 Gash, A. E., et al. U.S. Pat. Appl. Publ. US 20100139823, 2010.

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Zhaohua Luan

U.S. Army RDECOM-Army Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC)

Phone: 973-724-8041