What Is Thermite?

Thermite is a pyrotechnic compound consisting of a metal oxide, metal powder, a fuel source and usually aluminum. When subjected to heat, thermite produces an exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction, also known as a thermite reaction, that results in the compound igniting and burning at incredibly high temperatures for a short time.

Aluminum powder is the most commonly used metal in thermite production, and the reaction that results from this is an aluminothermic reaction. There are many different fuel sources that can be used, including magnesium, aluminum, boron, zinc, silicon, calcium and titanium. Thermite can be produced using a number of different oxidizers: chromium III oxide; boron III oxide; manganese IV oxide; iron II oxide; a combination of iron II and iron III oxides; lead II, III or IV oxide; and silicon IV oxide. The most commonly used oxide is some form of iron.

Thermite has many different uses, including in metal refining, high temperature welding, demolition and as part of incendiary weapons. It usually takes some time for a thermite reaction to begin, as the compound must first reach white hot temperatures before it finally ignites. However, once it ignites, it can produce temperatures that reach almost 2,900 degrees Celsius.

Thermite was first produced by a German chemist, Hans Goldschmidt, in 1893.