A synthetic route for producing nanostructure metal-oxide-based materials using sol-gel processing. This procedure employs the use of stable and inexpensive hydrated-metal inorganic salts and environmentally friendly solvents such as water and ethanol. The synthesis involves the dissolution of the metal salt in a solvent followed by the addition of a proton scavenger, which induces gel formation in a timely manner. Both critical point (supercritical extraction) and atmospheric (low temperature evaporation) drying may be employed to produce monolithic aerogels and xerogels, respectively. Using this method synthesis of metal-oxide nanostructured materials have been carried out using inorganic salts, such as of Fe.sup.3+, Cr.sup.3+, Al.sup.3+, Ga.sup.3+, In.sup.3+, Hf.sup.4+, Sn.sup.4+, Zr.sup.4+, Nb.sup.5+, W.sup.6+, Pr.sup.3+, Er.sup.3+, Nd.sup.3+, Ce.sup.3+, U.sup.3+ and Y.sup.3+. The process is general and nanostructured metal-oxides from the following elements of the periodic table can be made: Groups 2 through 13, part of Group 14 (germanium, tin, lead), part of Group 15 (antimony, bismuth), part of Group 16 (polonium), and the lanthanides and actinides. The sol-gel processing allows for the addition of insoluble materials (e.g., metals or polymers) to the viscous sol, just before gelation, to produce a uniformly distributed nanocomposites upon gelation. As an example, energetic nanocomposites of Fe.sub.xO.sub.y gel with distributed Al metal are readily made. The compositions are stable, safe, and can be readily ignited to thermitic reaction.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.