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Structures Congress 2014 © ASCE 2014 97

Blast Loads Behind Blast Walls: are they low enough?


Yousef Alostaz, PhD, PE1

1Associate Vice President, AECOM USA, Inc. 125 Broad Street, New York, NY.
Yousef.Alostaz@aecom.com, (212) 377-8422.
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ABSTRACT

One of the greatest challenges blast engineers face is securing enough standoff for
facilities that need to be protected against attacks by vehicle-borne bombs. One solution
might require the use of a perimeter blast wall. Depending on their location relative to the
protected facility and the standoff distance to the bomb, perimeter blast walls might reduce
the blast pressure and impulse from a vehicle bomb. Generally, erecting a blast wall at some
distance from the building might provide no appreciable increase in protection for the
majority of buildings. However, constructing a blast wall immediately in front of the building
might provide significant protection. The blast wall effectively reduces the pressure from a
reflected pulse to an incident pulse, permitting reduced safe standoff distances. Additionally,
a properly designed perimeter blast walls will stop the effects of fragmentation.
Empirical equations, developed by military researchers, might be used to predict the
blast pressure and impulse reduction capabilities of a perimeter wall. However, the
application of such equations is severely limited by the test parameters used in the equation
development. Some design guidelines require that blast walls have a height equal to 1.5 times
the protected structure height, and a width equal to twice the protected structure width.
Furthermore, the wall must be constructed no further than one story height from the protected
face of the building. Hence, blast walls can be massive and aesthetically not pleasant
This paper will examine the effectiveness of blast walls in reducing blast pressures
and impulses behind the walls. Three-dimensional, Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD)
simulations will be used to calculate the blast pressures for various blast environments.
Where applicable, the calculated blast loads will be compared with those obtained using the
empirical approach.

INTRODUCTION

Providing the required standoff between the target and the threat is a challenging task,
especially in urban environments. For such situations, engineers might elect to provide a
blast wall in order to reduce the blast pressure to a manageable level at the location of the
protected facility. Blast walls reduce pressures by reflecting part of the incident pressure
towards the explosion source, and diffracting the blast wave over the barrier. It should be
noted that the diffracted pressure is reduced for some distance behind the wall before the
shock wave reforms to its original intensity. A properly designed blast wall can arrest
airborne debris, generated by the explosive threat, and hence providing further protection to
the protected building.

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Figure 1. Blast Wall Parameters


The effectiveness of the blast wall in reducing the blast pressures depends on the
geometry of the blast wall, the scaled standoff between the threat and the wall and between
the threat and the protected target. The blast parameters are shown in Figure 1.
The following parameters will be used in this article:
• Weight of explosive device W
• Height of target h
• Height of blast wall H
• Distance between building at Wall R
• Scaled standoff to the blast wall /

Experiments conducted on blast walls are the main source for information on blast
pressures behind the walls. Typically, those experiments address a limited range of
parameters. The Army and Air Force Security Engineering Manual (TM 5-853, AFM 88-56)
provides a methodology to calculate blast pressures behind blast walls which is based on
small-scale tests. The methodology was not validated using full-scale tests and is limited to
certain geometries. Generally, the blast wall effectiveness increases as the wall is placed
close to the protected target or the explosive threat. The peak blast pressure is reduced
significantly behind the wall, but gradually approach the free-filed blast values at large
distances.
It should be noted that an improperly designed blast wall might increase the blast
pressures and/or impulses on the building. For example, this scenario might occur for some
combination of large standoff from the blast wall and short standoff between the building and
the blast wall. The current data indicates that blast wall is most effective when the explosive
charge is placed within one wall height (1H) from the blast wall and within ten wall heights
(10H) from the protected facility. For buildings located at more than twenty wall heights
(20H), the blast pressure approaches its free-field values [2010].
This paper will examine the effectiveness of blast walls in reducing blast pressures
and impulses behind the walls. Three-dimensional, Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD)
simulations will be used to calculate the blast pressures for various blast environments.
Where applicable, the calculated blast loads will be compared with those obtained using the
empirical approach.

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ANALYTICAL SIMULATIONS

Performing a numerical simulation of any physical phenomena requires, among other


things, the identification of two major elements, namely the governing equations for the
physical phenomena and the boundary conditions of the physical entity being modeled. A
simple explosion would have the following three characteristics: 1) the explosive device, 2)
the pressure wave, and 3) the standoff distance to the target, that is the distance between the
target and the bomb. The explosive device can be categorized as a high order explosives or
low order explosives depending on its reaction rate. High order explosives include TNT,
dynamite, C4, nitroglycerin and ammonium nitrate fuel oil mixture (ANFO). Low order
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explosives include rocket propellants, pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Because of their
low reaction rate, low order explosives do not form a shock wave.
High order explosives posses a fast chemical reaction rate that converts the charge
mass into an expanding gas pressure wave accompanied by sound and heat. The leading tip
of the pressure wave is known as the shock front, and it typically has the highest pressure at
any time. The blast gasses expand as they travel away from the blast source; a void might be
created where the pressure is below the ambient atmospheric pressure.
The complex destruction effect of the blast is the main driving factor behind the need
to perform field physical testing on large scale prototype, unfortunately, it is that same effect
that makes field testing expensive and time consuming. Numerical simulation might be used
to identify the most crucial parameters in a specific blast scenario. Once those parameters are
identified, field testing of limited number of prototypes might be needed to confirm and
calibrate the blast performance of the structural element in question.
The blast phenomenon generates extreme pressure gradients and impulsive loading
that cannot properly be treated by conventional implicit finite element formulation. Explicit
finite element formulation is more suited to handle such extreme loading conditions.
Commercially available explicit finite element software include LSDYNA, AUTODYN,
ABAQUS, NASTRAN, ALIGRO… etc. We used LSDYNA for the simulations presented in
this paper.
Typically the explicit finite element software generates a set of differential equations
that incorporate Equations of State (EOS) that describes the variation of a volumetric
material property, such as volumetric strain, with pressure. Using the principles of
conservation of mass, energy and momentum, the explicit finite element algorithm advances
the solution of the differential equations over short periods of time, commonly known as time
steps. This time step indicates the time that is required for the speed of sound to travel
through the smallest element within the finite element grid. Hence, finer grid would yield
smaller time step, and softer material would yield larger time step. Most explicit software has
built-in algorithms that automatically calculate the time step and impose a cap, with user
override, on the maximum time step. The imposed cap is necessary in order to keep the time
step value within limits that most likely would yield a stable, converged solution.
The finite element software might utilize a Lagrange solver, an Euler solver, or a
combination of both of these solvers, known as an Arbitrary Lagrange-Euler solver (ALE).
The basic characteristic of the Lagrange solver is that the finite element grid distorts with the
material. The solver tries to impose distortion compatibility at the finite element nodes. The
Lagrange solver is not suitable for problems that produce excessive distortions of the finite
element grid, such as the modeling of fluid movements. Unlike the Lagrange solver, the finite
element grid in the Euler solver is stationary. However, the material is allowed to flow
between the finite element grids in order to satisfy pressure compatibility at the finite element

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nodes. The Euler solver is not suitable for tracking the deformations of a material in its solid
state. The ALE solver combines the benefits of both solvers, and most likely would capture
the Fluid-Structure-Interaction (FSI).
Geometry and Discretization
The three-dimensional (3D)
finite element model is shown in
Figure 2. The height and width of
the blast wall were selected to be 8
ft and 3 ft, respectively. The
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protected building is located at 24 ft


from the blast wall. The total width
of the model was 30 ft, but due to
symmetry, only 15 ft width was
modeled.
The standoff distance
between the threat and the wall “r”
and the weight of the threat “W” are
the main parameters investigated in
this article, and the range of those
parameters are shown in Table 1. Figure 2. 3D Finite Element Model
Other parameters will be the topic
of a future article.
Table 1. Investigated Parameters
Reflective boundary conditions were Standoff Threat Scaled
assumed at the ground surface, and Distance, r (ft) Size, W (lb) Standoff,
symmetric boundary condition was assumed (ft/lb1/3)
at the plane of symmetry. Non-reflective
boundary conditions were assumed at the 100 0.862
sides of the air domain. 250 0.635
Eight-noded brick elements were used 500 0.504
to model the air, the blast wall, and the 4
1000 0.400
explosive material. Lagrangian element
formulation was used for all finite elements 2000 0.317
representing the blast wall. The Arbitrary 4000 0.252
Lagrange-Euler (ALE) algorithm was used to 100 1.724
simulate the behavior of the explosives and 250 1.270
the air.
500 1.008
Material Models 8
1000 0.800
The material models implemented in our 2000 0.635
analyses represented the high order explosive, 4000 0.504
and the air domain. The blast wall was
assumed to be infinitely rigid.
High order explosive
TNT material was used to simulate an explosive material placed next to the blast wall.
The Jones-Wilkins-Lee (JWL) Equation of State (EOS) described the behavior of this
explosive material. This equation can have the form shown below

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ω ω E
peos = A(1 − )e − R1V + B(1 − )e − R2V + ω (1)
R1V R2V V
The blast pressure at specific time is given by this equation:
P = F . peos (2)
Where:
A, B, R1, R2 and ω: are material specific parameters
peos: is the pressure
V: is the ratio between initial and current densities
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E: is the internal energy


F: Burn fraction ≤1.0

The explosive material parameters used in our analyses are presented in Table 2. It is
assumed that the explosive device is rectangular in shape, and located at 2 ft above ground
level.
Table 2. TNT parameters
Density Detonation Velocity A B R1
(cm/μsec)
(g/cm3) (Mbar) (Mbar)
1.63 0.693 3.712 0.03231 4.15
R2 ω E0/V0 Chapman-Jouget Pressure
3 3
(Mbar cm / cm ) (Mbar)
0.95 0.3 0.07 0.21
Air
The air is modeled as an ideal gas material using a linear polynomial form of the equation
of state:
(
p = C0 + C1 μ + C2 μ 2 + C3 μ 3 + C4 + C5 μ + C6 μ 2 E (3) )
Ideal gas behavior is achieved by setting
C 0 = C1 = C 2 = C3 = C 6 = 0 and C 4 = C5 = γ − 1
Where:
γ: is the ratio of specific heat = 1.4

SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS

Our past experience with similar blast analyses indicated that the accuracy of the
predicted blast response was highly dependent on the resolution of the finite element mesh.
Several analyses were performed with various element sizes that resulted in number of nodes
ranging between about 300k to about 4.5m. It was found that while the peak blast pressure
was somehow sensitive to the size of the finite element mesh, the peak blast pressure ratio
showed less sensitivity to the finite element size. The peak blast pressure ratio was calculated
as the ratio of the peak blast pressure with blast wall to the peak blast pressure without the
wall. The pressure is monitored at the face of the protected building. The impulse ratio was
calculated in a similar manner. Figure 3 shows sample results from the sensitivity analysis
performed at two locations on the façade of the protected building. Generally, it was
observed that coarser models resulted in more conservative assessment of the blast loads

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behind blast walls. With more reduction in the finite element size, the change in the blast
load ratio was almost negligible and would
not justify the extra computational time. 0.7%

The results presented in this article are 0.6%


Impulse
based on 3D finite element models with 0.5%

about 750k nodes. 0.4%

Ratio
0.3%
0.2%
ANALYSIS RESULTS Pressure
0.1%
0.0%
Obstacles, such as blast walls, placed in
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0.0E+00 1.0E+06 2.0E+06 3.0E+06 4.0E+06


the path of oncoming shock wave will number of Nodes
disturb the natural propagation of the shock 4.0%
wave, see Figure 4. Among other things,
3.5%
the presence of the blast wall will delay the
3.0%
arrival time of the shock wave at the lower Impulse
2.5%
levels of the building. The analytical shock

Ratio
2.0%
wave exhibited similar characteristics to
1.5% Pressure
those shown by Smith [2010].
1.0%
This article is focused on examining
the reduction of the blast loads due to the 0.5%

presence of blast walls. Therefore, two 0.0%


0.0E+00 1.0E+06 2.0E+06 3.0E+06 4.0E+06
analytical models were generated for each Number of Nodes
parameter investigated in the article. One
model included the blast wall, and the Figure 3. Sensitivity Analysis – at blast wall
second model did not have the blast wall. height (top), top of building (bottom)
Both models were identical to each other,
except that the material at the location of the blat wall was assigned either rigid or air
properties.
The ratio of the peak blast pressure, in the presence of the blast wall, to the peak blast
pressure without the blast wall is shown in Figure 5. As mentioned earlier, the blast pressure
is monitored at the façade of the
protected building. The blast
impulses are numerically
integrated from the blast pressure
time-histories. The blast impulse
ratios are calculated in a similar
manner to the blast pressure ratios
and are shown in Figure 6.
For the blast wall parameters
examined in the this article, it was
observed that the presence of the
blast wall reduced the peak blast
pressure at the building façade
(below the height of the blast
wall) to less than 10% of the free Figure 4. Shock wave propagation around blast wall
field peak blast pressure. For
façade areas above the blast wall height, the reduction in the blast pressure ratio was
dependent on the size of the explosive device, see Figure 5. Only 20% reduction in the peak
blast pressure was observed at top of the protected building when a large explosive device is

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detonated at 4 ft from the face of the wall. As expected, when the threat standoff to the blast
wall increases, the effectiveness of the blast wall diminishes. For example, the peak blast
pressure ratio is about 20% at a façade height of 22 ft when a 100 lb TNT device is detonated
at 8 ft from the blast wall. The larger threat, 4000 lb TNT equivalent, detonated at 8 ft from
the wall, is anticipate to retain the majority of its peak blast pressure at top of the protected
building. In other words, the blast wall is not efficient in reducing the blast loads at the face
of the protected building.
When the same device is detonated at closer distance from the wall, the reduction in the
blast pressure at the building façade is larger. It is interesting to note that the closer the threat
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45 45
40 40
35 35
30 30 Threat size, lb
TNT equivalent

Height, ft
Height, ft

25 25
4000
20 20
UFC 2000
15 15
Threat at 4 ft Threat at 8 ft 1000
10 from wall 10 from wall 500
5 250
5
100
0 0
0.0% 20.0% 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 0.0% 20.0% 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 100.0%
Peak Pressure Ratio, % Peak Pressure Ratio, %

Figure 5. Blast Pressure Ratio – Threat at 4ft (left) and 8 ft (right) from wall
to the blast wall, the more dependent the blast pressure ratio on the size of the threat.
The Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) prediction for the blast pressures behind blast walls
is shown in Figure 5. Note that the UFC calculations are based on empirical formulas that
have many limitations and restrictions. Generally, the empirical formulas are more
conservative than the analytical results, but both approaches exhibited similar characteristics.
For example, analytical and empirical approaches indicated that the largest reduction in the
blast loading occurs at heights below the top of the blast wall. Blast wave reflected from the
ground surface, and the interior corner effects are likely to be the main driver behind the
increased blast loads at façade elements close to the ground level.
The impulse ratios as calculated from the numerical simulations are shown in Figure 6.
This figure indicates that the blast impulse values across the height of the façade exhibit
similar trends as the peak blast pressure. However, the overall reduction in the blast impulse
is larger than that observed for the blast peak pressure.
It is interesting to note that when smaller threats are detonated at larger distance from the
blast wall, the reduction in the blast impulse was smaller than the case for larger threat
detonated at the same standoff from the blast wall. Such behavior will require further
investigation. However, it is possible that this behavior is due to the way the results are
presented. Note that the impulse ratio is calculated as the blast impulse in the presence of
blast wall divided by the blast impulse without the blast wall. For smaller threats at larger
standoffs, the blast impulse without the wall is much smaller. The smaller denominator might
be resulting in larger impulse ratios in the case of smaller threats.

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45 45
Threat at 4 ft from wall Threat at 8 ft from wall
40 40

35 35

30 30
Height, ft

25 Threat size, lb TNT

Height, ft
25
equivalent
20 20 4000
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2000
15 15
1000
10 10 500

5 250
5
100
0 0
0.0% 10.0% 20.0% 30.0% 40.0% 0.0% 10.0% 20.0% 30.0% 40.0%
Impulse Ratio, % Impulse Ratio, %

Figure 6. Impulse Ratio - Threat at 4ft (left) and 8 ft (right) from wall

CONCLUSIONS

This paper investigated the effectiveness of blast walls in reducing blast pressures and
impulses behind the walls. Three-dimensional, Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD)
simulations were used to calculate the blast pressures for various blast environments. The
flow of the blast wave around blast wall is a complex phenomenon that depends on many
parameters that might include the scaled standoff between the wall and the threat, the wall
height, and the distance between the wall and the protected building. Only limited number of
parameters were numerically investigated and presented in this article. Further investigation
will be required to fully understand the blast wave propagation in the vicinity of blast wall.
As anticipated, the effectiveness of the blast wall diminishes as the standoff between the
wall and the explosive device increases.
At smaller standoffs between the blast wall and the threat, the reduction of the peak blast
pressure was inversely proportional to the size of the threat.

REFERENCES

Handbook for Blast Resistant Design of Buildings (2010), John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Blast Mitigation for Structures: 1999 Status Report on the DTRA/TSWG program, National
Academy Press, Washington DC.
Smith, P.D (2010), “Blast walls for structural protection against high explosive threats: a
review”, International journal of protective structures, Volume 1, Number 1.

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