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Basic Information

Thermite is a aluminium/metal oxide1 mixture used for a variety of purposes. When ignited2 thermite undergoes a violent redox reaction generating an extremely high temperature and releasing a stream of molten iron. The mixture was invented in 1895 by German chemist Hans Goldschmidt as a method of smelting high purity iron, but was quickly put to other uses.

The main civilian application is welding - especially the sort of large, high volume welds required by railway construction. The military use the stuff as an incendiary filler, either for direct use in incendiary rounds or for demolitions work and the destruction of material3. Properly applied it can be used to burn your way into metal containers such as safes and armoured doors. Examples of thermite incendiaries include the dragon's breath and the ancestors of the AN/M-14 incendiary grenade.

Modern military users tend to use the derivative mixture thermate, which adds sulphur and barium nitrate to the mix, raising the reaction temperature, lowering the energy required for ignition and making the reaction more dynamic (mainly in terms of increased flaming).

Thermite (or thermate) can be found strapped to all sorts of things that you would rather have destroyed than stolen - sensitive electronics, safeloads of documents and the like … and in the case of computers may even be wired into the password protection and the case latches. Thermite in a portable telephone could prove to be an extremely painful surprise for a thief.

As a redox reaction, both thermite and thermate will work quite happily under water (although thermite's ignition issues may play a role in this context).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Michael McBride appears to love this stuff - or at least his novel Burial Ground is full of it, from the incendiary grenades that the main characters appear to use as lighting flares to the stone age Peruvian tribals who also, mysteriously, seem to have access to it (and where they get powdered aluminium or magnesium from is anyone's guess).
  • Often suggested as a stain remover by sarcastic engineers.
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