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While its correct that thermite type mixtures will never be high performance, they can actually work. MnO2/Al is a known propellant as the reaction is hot enough to boil manganese. PbO2/Al is hot enough to boil the lead and some Al2O3, but may be too explosive. HgO/Al would obviously form gasseous mercury :P again maybe too explosive not to mention toxic. CuO/Al is explosive but generates less gas then MnO2 and is more dense.
Al/MnO2 will generate 2645Â°C with phase changes, 4556Â°C without, where Mn boils at 2097Â°C (at 1 atm).
4Al + 3MnO2 -> 2Al2O3 + 3Mn + 1159cal/g (4651 cal/cm3)
Regarding Al/water, I had the idea some time ago to use KMnO4/fuel mixture to catalyse and ignite a mixture of H2O2/H2O/Al/guar gum, I made a prototype to test the reaction, it wasnt meant to actually fly
but it was never fired. I'll attach picture, essentually the oxidiser rich KMnO4/fuel fired in an inverted fountain down into the gelled peroxide fuel hopefully catalysing the peroxide with KMnO4/MnO2, generating enough heat/O2 to ignite the Al in a sustainable reaction. It was a long shot and I never did try it, though I did test the fuel for explosive properties and yep, when initiated with a detonator it detonated with a thunderous boom when in a 50% H2O2:Al ratio of 1:1 (this is balanced to Al2O3 + H2 products).
Pictures/movies attached of rocket, CuO2/Al being shot with rifle (its impact sensitive) and H2O2/H2O/Al/guar detonating.