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he selection of the most appropriate explosive is an integral part of the blast
design and optimisation process. The selected explosive must not only deliver
the amount of energy required to fragment and loosen the target rock, it must
also be suited to the prevailing conditions. The blasting operation must also be

The characteristics that influence the selection of explosives include:

• physical and chemical properties such as density, robustness and handling

characteristics, water resistance, sleeping and fume characteristics

• detonation properties such as sensitivity, explosive energy and its partition into
shock and heave, and

• economic and logistical factors such as cost, availability, and the reliability and
level of technical support provided by the supplier.

Availability, handling, water resistance and, of course, cost and performance are
generally regarded to be the most important factors in explosive selection. The latter
two must be dealt with in a relatively sophisticated fashion if they are to be properly
included in a cost-benefit calculation. This complexity arises because the same
explosive may perform differently in different applications and in different rock
masses. Designs need to be varied to suit the characteristics of the selected explosive
and a simple comparison of explosive price alone does not provide an adequate
ranking of blasting economics.

The blasting engineer can now choose from a wide range of explosive products when
designing and optimising open pit blasting operations. These products vary
significantly in both their physical and detonic properties and provide the opportunity
to match their properties with those of the rock mass to achieve particular blasting

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

objectives. Just as a hardware shop can blend paint bases and tints to produce any
colour, the development of blended emulsion explosives allows the physical and
detonic properties of an explosive to be varied over a wide range. This capability
emphasises the question:

"What are the explosive characteristics I need?

rather than the traditional question:

"Which of the products A, B or C should I use?"

Unfortunately, the former question is not as easily answered as the latter. A proper
response to either question requires some knowledge of the basic properties of bulk
commercial explosives, an understanding of the characteristics of the target rock mass
and the criteria on which the performance of the blasting operation should be judged.

This chapter describes common bulk commercial explosives in terms of their chemical,
physical and detonic characteristics. Methods are described for the estimation of
explosive performance and its measurement in the field. Criteria for the selection of
explosives for particular blasting situations are discussed and an approach is outlined
for the selection of explosives and the on-going assessment of their performance.


The chemistry of explosives can become very complex as manufacturers seek greater
control over the detonic, stability and handling characteristics of their products. Of
course the other important variable is cost - large scale open pit mines were only made
feasible because of the development of relatively cheap ammonium nitrate based bulk
explosives in the 1950s. To understand the intricacies of the more complex emulsion
explosives requires not only specialist knowledge of chemistry, but of the particular
niche science of explosives chemistry. Nevertheless, there are a few basic elements of
the chemistry of explosives that blasting engineers need to understand.

The primary ingredients of bulk commercial explosives are an oxidiser (usually

ammonium nitrate) and a fuel. Other ingredients are used to modify the physical and
detonic properties of the explosive to match particular blasting, storage and handling
requirements. These other ingredients include water, calcium nitrate, diluents,
emulsifiers, high energy fuels, cross linkers, gums, gassing agents and sensitisers.

7.2.1 Nitrate Content

Ammonium nitrate is the primary ingredient of most bulk commercial explosives. Its
role is to supply oxygen to the detonation reaction. In some cases calcium nitrate may

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

be added to a super-saturated solution of ammonium nitrate and water during the

manufacture of emulsion and water gel explosives. The calcium nitrate helps to
stabilise the solution and it also supplies oxygen to the detonation reaction.

The total amount of nitrate in an explosive has a direct influence on the energy
released during detonation. Chemical analysis techniques are available to determine
the total nitrate content and the amount of ammonium nitrate in commercial
explosives. These techniques are based on the Kjeldahl process for nitrogen analysis
and tend to be complex and time consuming (Cameron and Grouhel 1990).

7.2.2 Fuel Content

The fuel component of an explosive provides the second of the necessary ingredients
for the detonic reaction. The fuel content must be in balance with the oxygen provided
for an efficient reaction to proceed and for poisonous fumes to be avoided.

The fuel in ANFO is in the form of diesel oil. The diesel content of ANFO can be fairly
readily determined by dissolving the ammonium nitrate in water and separating the
oil from the resulting solution. Techniques to measure the fuel content of explosives
other than ANFO are more complex and depend on the composition of the explosive
and the types of fuels that are used. These may include waxes, vegetable oils,
petroleum oils or hexamine.

7.2.3 Water Content

Water is used in commercial explosives to dissolve nitrates to form the liquor on which
emulsion and water gel explosives are based. The water is vaporised during the
detonation which reduces the energy available to do work on the rock. Water is often
used as a lubricant in the delivery hose when pumping water-resistant explosives to
the bottom of blast holes. While the use of water helps to place the explosive in the
blast hole, excessive quantities will impede the detonation reaction and reduce the
overall energy yield.

Ammonium nitrate is hygroscopic and will readily absorb water. Explosive grade
ammonium nitrate prill is coated with an anti-caking agent that impedes the ingress of
water. The moisture content of this prilled AN should be less than 0.15% and should
not increase when ANFO is manufactured by the addition of fuel oil.

The technique used to measure the water content of an explosive employs Karl Fisher
titration (Cameron and Grouhel 1990). The titration is relatively simple, but the
preparation of emulsion or water gel samples is complex because the basic structure of

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

the mixture must be broken down without adding water or allowing water to be

7.2.4 Chemical Stability

Chemical stability is important in terms of the shelf life available for storage, transport
or while the explosive is sleeping in the blast hole prior to detonation (see Section
7.3.6). Changes to the chemical composition of an explosive can occur with time or
through interaction with the explosive's environment. The most common changes
involve the leaching of ammonium nitrate out of the explosive by water, crystallisation
of salts out of solution or the breakdown of ammonium nitrate by other compounds in
the explosive.

Evidence that a change is occurring in an explosive can take the form of crystals
growing in the explosive matrix, segregation of components, dissolution of prills,
generation of ammonia fumes and changes to the viscosity of liquid and solid/liquid

All of these changes lead to a reduction in explosive performance, and in extreme

cases, failure to detonate. Evidence of partial chemical degradation can often be seen
in the form of orange/brown nitrous oxide fumes following a blast. These fumes not
only indicate imperfect detonation but are toxic and can constitute a hazard to
bystanders or those re-entering a sheltered working area.

The recommended maximum sleep time (the length of time between loading and firing
a shot) can be provided by the explosive manufacturer and should form one of the
criteria for explosive selection. This sleep time may vary from location to location
depending on the chemical nature of the rock mass and the mobility of any ground

7.2.5 Sensitisation

In order to sustain detonation, bulk explosives need ‘hot spots’ to concentrate heat and
act as a local source of initiation. Bulk commercial explosives are generally sensitised
by generating small gas bubbles throughout the liquid phase or adding glass micro-
spheres. The volume of the gas bubbles reduces with increased hydrostatic pressure at
the bottom of deep blast holes. In some circumstances this can desensitise an explosive
relying solely on the gas bubbles for hot spots. Additional sensitivity may also be
required for small blast hole diameters and can be achieved by adding powdered
aluminium or another high energy substance. Ammonium perchlorate and other
perchlorates are strong oxidisers and their inclusion will increase the sensitivity of an

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection


Bulk commercial explosives commonly used in open pit blasting include ANFO, water
gels, emulsions, ANFO-emulsion blends, Heavy ANFOs and low density ANFOs. The
following Sections provide a brief introduction to these common explosives.

7.3.1 ANFO

The word ANFO is an abbreviation of Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil. The
ammonium nitrate (AN) is in the form of a porous prill and the fuel oil is diesel fuel or
distillate. Other carbonaceous fuels have been used from time to time. These include
pulverised coal and sump oil, but fuel oil has the advantage of being cheap, readily
available, easy to mix and is readily absorbed by the AN prill.

The chemical reaction of ammonium nitrate and diesel oil is:

3NH4NO3 + CH2 → 3N2 + 7H2O + CO2 (7.1)

This reaction is oxygen balanced and produces a theoretical energy release of 3.78
MJ/kg based on the heats of formation of the reactants and products. The ratio of
molecular weights indicates an ideal mixture of 5.5% fuel oil in ANFO. Figure 7.1
shows the relationship between the theoretical energy released and the percentage of
fuel oil in ANFO (after Mercer 1983).

Energy (%)


Deficient Fuel Oil Excess Fuel Oil
Excess Oxygen Deficient Oxygen

0 2 4 6 8 10
Fuel Oil (%)

Figure 7.1: Variation in energy per kilogram of ANFO with fuel content (after Mercer 1983)

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

When the amount of fuel oil is less than optimum, the energy decreases more rapidly
than if there is an excess of fuel oil. Further more, if the fuel oil content is low then the
detonation reaction produces excess oxygen which combines with nitrogen to produce
nitrous oxides which are very toxic. To avoid this it is common practice to use a ratio
of 94:6 by weight of AN to FO.

ANFO is the most common explosive used in the open pit industry because it is
powerful, relatively cheap and easy to manufacture and handle. The detonic
properties of ANFO also suit many mid to low strength overburden rocks. Because it is
easy to manufacture to a consistent quality, ANFO has become the standard for the
comparison of explosive energy. The primary disadvantage of ANFO is that it is not
water resistant and its performance is badly affected or destroyed in the presence of

7.3.2 Water Gels and Slurries

The first water gel explosives were developed in the early 1960s. They consisted
principally of ammonium nitrate, water and sensitisers. The sensitisers used were
trinitrotoluene (TNT) and aluminium. The TNT or aluminium were added to a
solution of ammonium nitrate in water and mixed with a guar gum to thicken the
mixture. As the explosive was pumped into the blast hole, a cross-linker was added to
cause the explosive to gel. This maintained the homogeneity of the product and
provided effective water resistance. The water content of these explosives was about
15% to 20% and they had a weight strength of about 85 compared with 100 for ANFO
(see Section 7.4.4).

There have been many advances in the development of water gel explosives since
those times The water content of these explosives has been reduced and the
ammonium nitrate content correspondingly increased. TNT and aluminium are no
longer used in Australia as sensitisers. Modern water gels consist of a mixture of solid
AN, a liquor, air and a cross linker. The liquor is made up of a solution of oxidiser
salts, fuels and sensitisers.

Sensitisation can be provided either by entraining air into the explosive by vigorous
mixing at the point of delivery, generating air bubbles by introducing a chemical
gassing agent at the point of delivery or by introducing glass micro-spheres or
materials such as ‘perlite’. The form of sensitisation affects the density profile of the
explosive in the blast hole, its handling characteristics, robustness and sleeping

Water gel explosives generally have a relative density between 1.0 and 1.35. Their
weight strength is often quoted to be close to that of ANFO, indicating a bulk strength

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

considerably greater than ANFO. When properly mixed and delivered, the gelled
structure of the explosive makes it relatively robust and water resistant. The velocity
of detonation of water gels is greater than that of ANFO for similar charge diameters
and degree of confinement.

7.3.3 Emulsions

Emulsion explosives are liquids consisting of a continuous oil phase containing

dispersed droplets of oxidiser. The continuous oil phase resists the ingress of water
which would otherwise damage the oxidisers. The oxidiser solution consists of a
super-saturated solution of ammonium nitrate (with occasional calcium or sodium
nitrates) in water. The oil phase contains the fuels and consists primarily of diesel fuel
and waxes. In most cases, emulsifying agents are used to stabilise the mixture so that
the components do not separate and the nitrates in solution do not crystallise.

The physical properties of emulsion explosives can be varied to suit the application.
They can be formulated with a range of viscosities from reasonably low, so that they
can be easily pumped, to thicker putty-like consistencies if required. The temperature
of the explosive will also affect its viscosity.

Emulsion explosives are sensitised and have their density controlled by introducing
voids in the product. This is achieved by mixing in air, use of a chemical gassing agent
or through the addition of glass micro-spheres. High energy fuels can also be used to
improve the sensitivity and performance of the explosive but these tend to be

7.3.4 ANFO-Emulsion Blends

Ammonium nitrate prill or ANFO is added to some emulsion explosives to improve

their physical characteristics and slow down the rate of detonation. The addition of
these solids reduces the fluidity of the explosive and reduces the intimacy of the
oxidiser-fuel contact. Low proportions of solid AN allow the emulsion to totally
surround the prill providing a water resistant barrier. As the prill concentration
increases, the water resistance decreases. Figure 7.2 (Persson et al 1993) shows how
some properties of these blends vary with the ratio of ANFO to emulsion.

Common ANFO-emulsion blends contain between 30% and 50% AN prill. They have
a weight strength between 80 and 95 compared with ANFO at 100. They can be
delivered at a relative density between 1.1 and 1.3 corresponding to a bulk strength of
between 110 and 155.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Qd Density ρ
(MJ/kg) (kg/l)
Bulk strength (MJ/l)



100 50 0 % ANFO
0 50 100 % EMULSION

Augering Pumping

Poor Excellent

Figure 7.2: Density, explosion energy and bulk strength of ANFO/emulsion mixes as a function
of emulsion content (after Persson et al 1993)

7.3.5 Heavy ANFOs

When the concentration of ANFO in an ANFO-emulsion blend exceeds 50% then the
solids are the dominant component and the explosive is often referred to as a Heavy
ANFO. The emulsion component of some Heavy ANFO products is, in itself, not
sensitive to detonation because of a lack of hot spots. These non-explosive emulsions
are referred to as High Energy Fuels. When mixed with an appropriate proportion of
ANFO, the High Energy Fuels will detonate in conjunction with the ANFO. The
advantage of a High Energy Fuel over an emulsion is that it is not classified as an
explosive for the purposes of transport and storage.

The size distribution of explosive grade ammonium nitrate prill is such that there are
about 45% voids between the prills. When an emulsion phase (either an emulsion
explosive or high energy fuel) is added to ANFO, it fills the pore space between the
prills. Initially this liquid phase adds weight but not volume, so the density of the
explosive increases. Heavy ANFOs are generally used between 1.0 and 1.35 relative
density. The weight strength of the emulsion phase is less than 100, so Heavy ANFOs
have a weight strength less than ANFO, but because of their higher density, they can
have bulk strengths between 110 and 150 compared with ANFO of 100.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

In Heavy ANFOs with a higher proportion of liquid phase, the AN prills are entirely
surrounded by emulsion or high energy fuel which increases the water resistance of
these products. Since the ratio of ANFO to the liquid phase can generally be varied
during delivery, it is possible to vary the density or water resistance of the product
within a single blast hole.

7.3.6 Low Density ANFOs

Explosives with a low bulk strength are required when a low concentration of
explosive energy is needed. Examples include cautious blasting near sensitive
structures or pit walls, and blasting soft, well structured or low density rocks which
need a minimum of shock energy to achieve the desired fragmentation.

Most low bulk strength explosives are based on ANFO because of its low cost and ease
of handling. A diluent is added to ANFO to reduce its density. The traditional diluent
for low density ANFOs is polystyrene bead. This product is often called ISANOL or
ANFOPS. The size distribution of the polystyrene beads is similar to that of AN. Beads
can be mixed to provide densities as low as 0.2 or 0.3 g/cm3. The polystyrene is
generally added on a volume basis. The proportion of ANFO on a volume basis can be
as low as 25% and still maintain detonation. Diesel dissolves polystyrene so a
vegetable based oil is used to fuel these products.

Polystyrene-ANFO mixtures suffer from segregation and handling difficulties.

Packaged versions of the product overcome these problems, but if bulk low density
mixtures are required, a tackifying agent must be added to reduce the mobility of the

Diluent materials other than polystyrene may be mixed with ANFO. Examples of
these materials include saw dust, peanut shells, ground rubber, rice husks and begasse.
The bulk density of these products is in the range of 0.15 to 0.3 g/cm3 depending on
their moisture content and particle size distribution. Because they are organic
materials it is argued that they also contribute some energy to the reaction.


7.4.1 Density

The density of an explosive is its specific gravity expressed as a ratio to the standard
density of water of 1 g/cm3. Density relates the mass of an explosive to the volume it
occupies in a blast hole. The blasting energy provided by an explosive is a function of

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

its mass, so higher density explosives generally provide more energy from a given
volume of blast hole than lower density explosives. The density of an explosive is
therefore important in achieving the desired distribution of energy within the volume
to be blasted.

Some bulk explosives can be delivered over a range of densities. This attribute can be
used to manage the distribution of explosive energy where the geometry of the blast
volume or blast hole pattern is not regular (eg. adjacent to the toe of an angled bench
or where bands of harder material are encountered as shown in Figure 7.3).

ANFO High density deck

column ANFO column charge adjacent to hard band

High density
toe charge

Figure 7.3: Examples of varying explosive density

Explosives that are used in wet conditions must have a density greater than water to
prevent them floating above a cushion of water. Water-resistant explosives are usually
loaded from the bottom of the blast hole and are expected to displace the water. The
density of the water in a blast hole will often be greater than 1 g/cm3 because of the
presence of suspended solids or dissolved salts, and explosives of 1.1 g/cm3 or greater
are recommended for these conditions.

The sensitivity, velocity of detonation and energy yield are all influenced by the
density of the explosive. For most bulk explosives the sensitivity decreases and the
velocity of detonation increases as the density increases. An upper limit of density is
reached when the explosive is ‘dead packed’ and it has lost its sensitivity to the point
where the conventional initiation and priming system is insufficient to cause
detonation. The density ranges for some common bulk commercial explosives are
shown in Table 7.1.
Table 7.1: Typical explosive densities

Explosive Density Range (g/cc)

ANFO (loose poured) 0.75 to 0.85
ANFO (pneumatically loaded) 0.80 to 1.10
Low Density ANFOs 0.20 to 0.75
Emulsions 1.10 to 1.30
Emulsion Blends 1.00 to 1.35
Water Gels and Slurries 1.00 to 1.30

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Some explosives are compressible, some are not. The compressibility of an explosive is
controlled by the prill content, viscosity of the liquid phase and the amount of
entrained air or gas in the liquid phase. If the prill content is greater than about 55% by
weight, then the liquid phase simply occupies the macro pores between the prills; no
compression can occur because the prills support the weight of the material above. If
the proportion of liquid phase is greater than 45% then the liquid will lie between the
prills and be subjected to hydrostatic loading from the material above. In some
explosives the liquid phase contains entrapped gas bubbles and these will compress or
expand in response to the hydrostatic pressure imposed on the explosive. This means
that the density of these explosives will increase with depth in a blast hole, which may
lead to desensitisation at depth. The type and amount of waxes and gums in the
explosive ‘recipe’ play an important role in its density and handling characteristics.

Inconsistent density is one of the most obvious indicators of poor quality control in the
manufacture or mixing of bulk explosives. The density of a bulk explosive can be
readily measured during delivery using techniques described in Section 4.6.2.
Because explosive energy per unit length of blast hole is directly proportional to
density, it is a critical parameter in both the design and quality control of blasting

7.4.2 Initiation Requirements

Bulk commercial explosives require a high energy primer to initiate detonation. The
required strength of the primer depends on the sensitivity of the explosive and the
diameter of the blast hole. The strength of the primer also influences the distance
required for the detonation front to achieve steady state velocity. For optimum
blasting performance it is important that a steady state velocity of detonation is
developed within a short distance from the primer. Any portion of the explosive that
detonates below its optimum velocity produces less than its maximum energy.

Information should be sought from manufacturers on the priming requirements and

run up characteristics of alternative explosives. Their recommendations will probably
be based on particular blast hole diameters and charge lengths and will represent the
minimum primer weight for the specified conditions. The presence of any water or
diluents such as mud or drill cuttings, may desensitise the explosive and increase the
necessary primer size. A second delay element and primer in a blast hole can provide
insurance against the failure of the initiation system or structural disruption of the blast
hole prior to detonation. The run up characteristics and maintenance of detonation
velocity can be checked in the field by careful VOD testing (see Section 4.3.2).

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

7.4.3 Robustness and Handling Characteristics

Mine sites are generally regarded to be rugged environments and this is especially true
of the environment provided for an explosive in a blast hole. Loose cuttings, rock
fragments, water and mud can all be present, especially in the lower end of a blast hole
where the primer is traditionally placed and the explosive is expected to begin
detonation. Bulk explosives are loaded either by being poured from the blast hole
collar to cascade down the hole and pack evenly around the booster, or are pumped
from a hose at the bottom of the hole and expected to displace the water and mud
leaving a uniform column of explosive conforming to the blast design. Such handling
is far from ideal, and it is necessary that the explosives used are able to cope with this
sort of treatment.

The history of the explosive before it reaches the hole collar is also important. The
explosive is probably made by combining previously manufactured components at the
site of the blast. These components may have been made some days or weeks prior to
being used, and their chemical and physical stability during the manufacture, storage,
transport and delivery are vital to efficient blasting performance. It is entirely
reasonable to ask a prospective supplier to describe the process and logistics of their
proposed delivery and storage system and provide guarantees regarding the quality of
the components and finished product at the point of delivery. Complex emulsion or
water gel explosives may suffer performance problems unless the aspects discussed
above are given due attention, and in some remote mine sites a simpler explosive may
be more reliable in terms of overall blasting performance.

The viscosity of liquid and liquid-solid mixtures will influence how the explosive
behaves during and after loading in a blast hole. If an explosive is very fluid (low
viscosity) then it will flow readily into any fissures intersecting the blast hole.
Explosive that escapes from the blast hole in this way seldom detonates, as it is at less
than its critical diameter. It therefore constitutes waste, a potential safety hazard and
an environmental nuisance. Even high viscosity explosives may allow gas bubbles
excessive mobility if the product is ‘slept’ for any length of time after loading.

An explosive's pumping or augering characteristics are obviously important in terms

of the loading techniques that can be used. Water or greasing agents are often used to
lubricate delivery hoses when pumping viscous explosives. These lubricants do not
add to the energy released on detonation. Of equal importance is the control that can
be exerted over the loading process, especially in small diameter or short blast holes
such as those used for coal and partings blasting or for shallow benches in gold
operations. The economies of scale require a fast loading rate, but blast performance is
dramatically affected by uneven or inconsistent hole charging. If in doubt, the greatest

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

importance should be placed on the accurate control of the charge in each blast hole.
These problems are exacerbated if decking is employed.

Simple quality control checks are available to observe the consistency of mixing,
density and the viscosity of bulk explosives at the point of delivery. Perspex pipes can
also be used to study the in-hole behaviour of various delivery systems. The
measurement of VOD in the blast hole (Section 4.3.3) provides a clear indication of the
actual detonation performance of the explosive.

7.4.4 Water Resistance

The water resistance of an explosive is an indication of how its performance will be

influenced by water in the blast hole. Bulk commercial explosives vary significantly in
their resistance to water. The principal component of modern bulk explosives is
ammonium nitrate which is readily dissolved in water. ANFO has effectively no water
resistance. Water gels and emulsion explosives offer some resistance to the ingress
and impact of water, which can nevertheless vary from mild desensitisation and
reduction in energy yield to complete detonation failure. Mild deterioration may be
indicated by the production of tell-tale orange-brown nitrous oxide fumes after

No commercial bulk explosive is water proof. However those designated as being

highly water resistant can be used effectively in wet blasting conditions if they are
carefully loaded to displace the water and mud from the blast hole and are fired soon
after loading. Where the rate of recharge is not high, it may be feasible to pump water
from each blast hole and use a less water resistant explosive if the product is not slept
for any length of time. The use of water resistant products complicates blast design
because their higher density often leads to an increase in energy compared with the
original design. This is often compensated by a reduction in the detonation efficiency
of the water resistant explosive because of a mild, but finite reduction of performance
caused by its interaction with the water.

Explosive manufacturers indicate the degree of water resistance of their products in

qualitative terms such as none, poor, fair, good and very good. A better indicator of
the water resistance of an explosive is the recommended sleep time. This can be tested
by loading a series of blast holes in a quiet part of the mine and firing them at regular
intervals (say one week apart). Deterioration in explosive performance can be assessed
by observing how the performance of each blast changes due to the influence of water
and age. VOD and muckpile swell can be measured as described in Chapters 3 and 4.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

7.4.5 Fume Characteristics

Commercial explosives for the mining industry are required to be oxygen balanced
under the Mining Regulations in each State. Oxygen balance refers to the
stoichiometry of the chemical reaction and the nature of the gases that result from the
detonation. The creation of poisonous fumes such as nitrous oxides and carbon
monoxide is particularly undesirable. Unfortunately, regardless of the theoretical
outcome described by the chemical equations, undesirable fume is characteristic of:

• poor quality control

• damage to the explosive
• lack of confinement
• insufficient charge diameter, or
• excessive sleep time.

These factors are vital in underground operations where they directly affect
evacuation and re-entry practices, but they are also important in open pit situations.
Excessive fume generation can threaten the safety of sentries and bystanders even
kilometres from the blast, and pit geometries may allow pockets of gas to collect on
lower benches. These may be colourless and form an unseen threat to mine workers
who may enter these areas before a local breeze can clear and dilute the fumes.

Manufacturers have designed their products to be theoretically oxygen balanced and

mine operators should investigate situations in which fumes are observed after
detonation. The assistance of the manufacturer should be sought in eliminating these

7.4.6 Sleeping Characteristics

‘Sleeping’ refers to the practice of storing explosives in blast holes for a period of days
or weeks between charging and firing. This practice is adopted to suit mine
production and equipment schedules. Explosives vary in their robustness and storage
life in the field and care should be taken that an explosive is suitable to be slept for the
period planned. Explosives that have been over slept detonate poorly or not at all.
This creates operational problems as a result of poor blasting performance, or a serious
safety hazard in the case of detonation failure.

Explosives are prone to chemical changes by virtue of exposure to their own

components or to the environment provided by the blast hole. Ground water can leach
ammonium nitrate from even highly water-resistant explosives over time. Component
chemicals can precipitate from solution or interact with other components of the
explosive, leading to a reduction in performance.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Manufacturers should be asked to recommend sleeping practices for their products

and site tests can be conducted in a quiet area of the mine where a number of holes can
be loaded and fired at regular intervals. The performance of each hole detonation
should be observed using the techniques described in Chapter 4.


7.5.1 Measures of Explosive Performance

Explosives are designed to detonate in a blast hole to produce very high temperature
and high pressure gases. This detonation initially imposes a shock wave on the
surrounding rock sufficiently strong to create and extend fractures in the rock material.
The expanding explosion gases then infiltrate these fractures to extend them and
displace the resulting rock fragments. The amount of energy provided by an explosive
is therefore critical to its blasting performance, but so is the nature of that energy and
the rate at which it is released.

There have been a number of methods recommended for the ranking of the energy
provided by bulk explosives. Chapter 4 discusses some of the physical tests that are
used to compare explosion energy and some simple field techniques for comparing the
blasting performance of different explosives. The following sections describe methods
for quantifying explosion energy from a theoretical perspective. These concepts are
used in Section 7.6 to relate explosion energy and rock mass response to blasting

7.5.2 Velocity of Detonation

The Velocity of Detonation (VOD) of an explosive is the rate at which the detonation
front travels through the explosive charge. The VOD is an important indicator of the
performance of an explosive and is influenced by blast hole diameter, confinement,
density, and the nature and quality of the explosive. The VOD controls the rate of
release of explosion energy and influences the partitioning of that energy into shock
and heave. Explosives with high VOD tend to produce more shock energy than lower
VOD products, although both the VOD itself and the partition of explosion energy are
affected by the confinement provided by the blast hole and are therefore influenced by
the properties of the surrounding rock mass.

VOD is a very useful measure of the efficiency of detonation. Although rock mass
properties have some influence on VOD, a more significant factor is the quality of the
explosive's ingredients, the quality of its manufacture, and its loading and initiation.
VOD can be readily measured in the field and used to judge the overall health of the
explosive in the blast hole. Monitoring VOD in the field is described in Section 4.3.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

7.5.3 Available Energy

The Available Energy of an explosive is calculated from the stoichiometric formula for
the detonation reaction. The detonation reaction is exothermic and the energy released
can be calculated from the heats of formation of the products of the reaction minus the
heats of formation of the ingredients. The formation of solid products in the reaction,
or the presence of inert material, reduces the amount of energy produced, and these
aspects are allowed for in the calculation by a loss parameter. The assumptions
usually made in this analysis are that:

• the detonation reaction is ideal and goes to completion,

• the gases from the detonation reaction do useful work until the pressure drops to
one atmosphere or their temperature drops to 25o C.

Available Energy is usually expressed in megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg). Some

typical values are listed in Table 7.2.

Table 7.2: Quoted values for available energy for some typical bulk commercial explosives

Explosive Density (g/cc) A (MJ/kg)

ANFO 0.80 3.78

Heavy ANFO 1.20 3.46
Emulsion 1.25 3.12
Diluted ANFO 0.46 3.50

Most bulk commercial explosives do not detonate ideally because a significant

proportion of the chemical reaction takes place behind the detonation front. Aspects of
the non-ideal behaviour of these explosives is taken into account by the detonic codes
used by manufacturers to model the thermodynamic behaviour of their products. Each
of these codes varies subtly with regard to the way in which the non-ideal aspects of
the detonation are dealt with and the fate and energy contribution of the explosion
products. Care must therefore be taken when comparing the calculated energy values
from different manufacturers.

7.5.4 Weight Strength

The strength or energy released by an explosive can be compared with the energy
provided by an equivalent weight of ANFO. Weight Strength is commonly defined as:

Available Energy of Explosive

Weight Strength = x 100 (7.2)
Available Energy of ANFO

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Weight Strength is sometimes based on different energy terms, but is always expressed
as a ratio with the equivalent weight of ANFO. Weight Strength is useful when
comparing the potential performance of explosives on the basis of the energy factor.

7.5.5 Bulk Strength

The Bulk Strength of an explosive is defined as the energy of the explosive compared
with an equivalent volume of ANFO. Bulk Strength is useful for comparing the
potential performance of an explosive on the basis of equivalent blast hole volume or
unit length of a charge of the same diameter. It is linked to Weight Strength through
density as shown in equation 7.3:

Weight Strength x Density

Bulk Strength = (7.3)
Density of ANFO

Available Energy does not provide any indication of the rate of energy release or the
proportion of the explosive energy likely to contribute to the effective work of
breaking and displacing the rock. Weight Strength and Bulk Strength suffer the same
shortcomings as Available Energy, as they are based on very simple estimates of the
effective work that can be done by an explosive. The term Effective Energy was been
developed to counter some of these deficiencies.

7.5.6 Effective Energy

Observation of high speed film suggests that the movement of the burden rock
ultimately allows the explosion gases to escape the confinement of the blast hole and
rock fracture network. These gases are observed to contain significant energy when
they vent. Effective Energy has been defined as the energy released by an explosive as
the pressure of the explosion gases falls to a cut-off value representing the pressure at
which they vent from the rock mass and therefore stop doing effective work.
Available Energy can be plotted on a cumulative basis with reducing gas pressure, as
in Figure 7.4 . The Effective Energy is the cumulative energy released to the cut-off
pressure. The cut-off pressure normally adopted is 100 MPa or 1000 atmospheres.

The Effective Energy is lower than the Available or Total Energy and is dependent on
the characteristics of the energy-pressure curve. In Figure 7.4 it can be seen that ANFO
has a greater Total or Available Energy than Heavy ANFO. However, the energy-
pressure curves indicate that down to the reference pressure of 100 MPa, Heavy
ANFO has released more energy than ANFO. It therefore is deemed to have a greater
Effective Energy than ANFO.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection


Cumulative Energy Released (j/g)

Total Energy
Heavy ANFO
2500 greater
Effective Energy

Heavy ANFO
1000 ANFO


11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4
10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 1000
Pressure in Pascals

Figure 7.4: Cumulative energy released versus pressure for ANFO and Heavy ANFO

While the general concept of viewing the energy provided down to a cut-off pressure
representing the escape pressure of the explosion gases has considerable merit, the real
situation is unlikely to be this simple. The actual cut-off escape pressure of the
explosion gases will vary with the nature of the rock mass and the detailed blast design
and may vary considerably from the nominal 100 MPa used in this definition. A more
detailed model of explosive - rock interaction is described in Section 7.6.3 and has been
demonstrated to provide a more complete description of explosive performance in
different blasting situations.

7.5.7 Relative Effective Energy (REE)

Because ANFO is widely used, simple to make and consistent in performance, it is

convenient to use its performance as a basis for comparison with other explosives. The
Relative Effective Energy of an explosive is the Effective Energy of the explosive
compared with the Effective Energy of ANFO. In the example shown in Figure 7.4, the
Relative Effective Energy of the Heavy ANFO is about 1.09.

The effective energy of ANFO can vary depending on the type of AN prill used, the
size distribution of the prill, the proportion of fuel oil, degree of mixing and the
method of loading (density). For these reasons standard calculations are desirable to
form the basis of fair comparisons.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

REE is sometimes used interchangeably with Weight Strength even though these two
terms are based on different definitions of energy. Bulk Strength can also be expressed
on the basis of REE and density, and so it is important to understand the source of the
energy values used when quoting the energy of alternative explosives.

7.5.8 Partition of Explosion Energy

The energy provided by an explosive does useful work on the rock via two fairly
distinct mechanisms - shock and heave. The shock component of the energy is
produced when the high pressure gases generated by the detonation reaction quickly
expand to fill the borehole volume. This transmits a transient shock pulse to the
surrounding rock as the borehole wall is suddenly expanded by the internal gas
pressure. The borehole expansion continues until the pressure in the blast hole is
countered by the stresses developed in the confining rock. The shock energy imparted
to the rock via this mechanism is thought to be responsible for most of the initiation
and extension of new fractures in the rock mass.

The heave component of energy is represented by the work done by the explosion
gases as they enter and extend fractures and separate and displace the rock fragments.
The gases expand and push the rock until they vent to the atmosphere.

The partition of an explosive's Effective Energy into shock and heave components is
important in understanding its performance. Various explosive formulations provide
different rates of loading and different splits between shock and heave energy.
Understanding this performance involves an understanding of both the detonic
characteristics of the explosive and the reaction of the rock mass in which the explosive
is to be used, i.e. the characteristics of the explosive-rock interaction. This is discussed
in greater detail in the following Section.


How should you compare the blasting performance of different explosives? This is a
more difficult question than might first appear. The performance of any given blast
can be affected by many factors other than the choice of explosive, and it is very easy to
jump to false conclusions based on only a few observations. There are basically three
approaches to the comparison of blasting performance:

• careful observation of field performance

• testing in a controlled environment, and
• theoretical comparisons.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

7.6.1 Field Evaluation of Blasting Performance

Monitoring explosive performance in the field provides the opportunity to observe the
actual interaction of the explosive and the rock mass under consideration. However,
the field environment introduces variability that can frustrate the purpose of the trials.
A number of field techniques have been used to compare the blasting performance of
explosives under field conditions. These fall into two categories - specially designed
field experiments, and the observation of routine production blasts.

Field Experiments

Experiments have been performed in the field to rate explosive performance in

particular rock types. Of these, the most successful has been the crater test. The crater
test procedure involves firing a constant weight of explosive at varying depths of
burial and measuring the resulting crater volume. The test can be repeated in the same
rock mass using different explosives to provide a comparison of explosive performance
in that rock type. The size of the resulting crater and the crater depth are scaled
relative to the weight of the charge, and used to define a critical crater depth and an
optimum crater depth. The critical crater depth is the minimum depth that produces no
effective surface expression. The optimum crater depth is that which produces the
maximum crater volume. The crater yield is the maximum crater volume per kg of
explosive and can be used to compare the breakage potential of different explosives in
a given rock type.

The results from crater testing can be directly transferred to the design of crater retreat
blasts in underground mines. However, they do not necessarily correlate well with
other measures of explosive performance, and they do not allow the performance of an
explosive in one rock type to be extrapolated reliably to another rock type. The
theoretical analysis of blasting performance presented in Section 7.6.3 explains why
these tests are limited in this way.

Production Blast Monitoring

Ultimately, all that matters is how an explosive will perform in a production situation.
There are a number of field techniques available to monitor and compare performance,
as discussed in Section 4.6. These techniques include monitoring the consistency and
quality of an explosive as it is delivered, and the apparent shock energy, heave energy
and apparent explosive-rock interaction. Blasting results can also be compared
quantitatively (as described in Chapter 3) by using measurements of fragmentation,
muckpile shape, near-field strain, damage and digability to rate the relative
performance of different blasts. Care must be taken in analysing the results of these
tests as there are many factors other than explosive performance that can influence the
final result.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

The recommended approach to assessing the blasting performance of an explosive is to

utilise information from all available sources, including theoretical analyses and the
monitoring of production blasts. Special trials can be designed in the field, as
described in this Section and in Chapters 3 and 4, in order to assess particular aspects
of explosive performance for a given blasting operation.

7.6.2 Tests in a Controlled Environment

Explosive performance tests in a controlled environment are designed to evaluate

explosive performance without the influence of the rock mass. The objective is to
perform these tests in a regulated and reproducible environment. Tests which provide
some information on explosive energy include the ballistic mortar, trauzl or lead block
test, aquarium test, double pipe test, cylinder test and underwater test.

Sarma (1994) and Cameron (1993) provide a summary of these test procedures. In each
case the explosive energy is interpreted or compared on the basis of the reaction of the
test apparatus to the detonation. These reactions range from the swing of a pendulum
(measuring the momentum imparted to a lead slug) in the ballistic mortar, to the
indentation or distortion of a witness plate or pipe. While providing some comparison
between different explosives, it can be argued that the deformation of a witness plate
has little direct relevance to blasting performance in rock.

The aquarium and underwater tests provide a means for the direct measurement of
aspects of the detonation reaction. The aquarium test uses ultra high speed
photography to monitor the shock wave produced by a detonation in water. The
detonation pressure is inferred from these observations. In the JKMRC’s experience,
the underwater test provides valuable data regarding the performance of an explosive
and its variability with formulation or quality.

Underwater Test

The underwater test for explosive performance is based on measuring the pressure
pulses produced by the detonation of a charge under water. A typical underwater test
arrangement is shown in Figure 7.5. Up to 30 kg of explosive are suspended about
10 m below the surface in a body of water of regular geometry.

The detonation of the charge generates a high pressure shock wave that radiates away
from the explosive. While the pressure pulse propagates in an expanding spherical
shell, the high temperature, high pressure explosion gases continue to expand,
resulting in a bubble of diminishing internal pressure and an outward flow of water
behind the shock wave.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Firing line

Catenary cable

Water surface matcher Blast Power supply
monitor for pressure

Explosive Pressure
charge transducer

Figure 7.5: Arrangement of underwater test (Cameron 1993)

The expansion of the gas bubble continues even after the gas pressure falls below the
confining pressure of the water because of the kinetic energy of the outflowing water.
The bubble begins to collapse when this energy is expended and the now inward
motion continues until the compression of the gas is sufficient to reverse the motion
again. An oscillation of the bubble motion occurs due to the inertia of the water and
the elastic properties of the gas. Each bubble implosion generates a shock pulse in the
water which is monitored by hydrophones. The pressure-time history of the oscillation
of the gas bubble is shown schematically in Figure 7.6. The gas bubble eventually finds
its way to the surface, as shown in Figure 7.7.

Figure 7.6: Pressure-time history in underwater test (after Harries 1983)

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Figure 7.7: Eruption of gas bubble from the underwater test

The characteristics of the initial shock wave can be related to the shock energy of the
explosive. The period of oscillation of the gas bubble is a function of the gas or heave
energy of the explosive. Results of Cameron (1993) indicate that the underwater test
provides a reliable measure of total explosive energy and the basic split of that energy
into shock and heave. However, the water medium only provides a very ‘soft’
confinement of the charge compared with that provided by a blast hole in rock.
Cameron’s results suggested that most explosives provide about 25% of their energy in
the form of shock and 75% in the form of heave in this environment. Monitoring blast
performance in the field confirms that the shock : heave split in rock blasting can be
quite different from that observed in the ‘special case’ provided by the underwater test.

The isolation of the explosive from the rock in conducting these tests limits the value of
their results to real blasting situations. However, they do provide the opportunity to
assess the reliability or quality of particular batches or samples of explosives and
provide some indication of the comparative performance of different explosive

7.6.3 Theoretical Comparison of Blasting Performance

In order to compare blasting performance it is important to determine what

performance is sought. Quite different performance may be required to blast and
heave overburden in a cast blast for a dragline operation than is required to blast a

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

bench in an iron ore mine. In some situations, fragmentation may be the key issue,
while in others, heave or muckpile shape might be the appropriate measure of success.

Blasting engineers are often confused between explosive energy and blasting
performance. A major contributor to this confusion is the lack of standardisation for
explosive energy rating (Section 7.8) and whether the energy rating of an explosive
determined or calculated by a particular method provides an adequate indication of its
blasting performance. The energy ratings for an explosive, derived by a particular
method, may not directly translate to its blasting performance for the following

• the conditions under which the explosive energy is calculated or measured may
be quite different from that of rock blasting (eg. the underwater test)

• the assessment of blasting performance can be subjective and is dependent on the

objectives of the particular blasting situation

• the blasting mechanisms and the explosive - rock interaction which are important
in estimating blasting performance are not generally taken into consideration.

Explosive - Rock Interaction

Lownds (1986) and Udy and Lownds (1990) developed a mechanistic model and
described the explosive - rock interaction using pressure - volume curves for the
explosion gases during blasting. Sarma (1994) used a similar mechanistic approach
and developed a model (EXEN) to estimate the energy released by an explosive in field
situations. This model takes into account the explosive - rock interaction, performance
of the explosive and the confinement provided by the blast design.

The explosive - rock interaction during blasting is represented in EXEN by the pressure
- volume curve (Figure 7.8) of the gases from the initial explosion state until:

• the gas reaches a free face

• the pressure of the gases falls below atmospheric pressure
• the temperature of the gases falls below the ambient temperature.

It is assumed that either the energy is wasted or very little useful energy is left in the
explosion gases once they reach the above terminal conditions.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection


Pb A

Response of the blasthole

wall to explosive loading

Equilibrium state
1 2
3 6 D Gas escape into
the atmosphere
5 7
Ve Vb Veq V(tmin) V(tter)


Figure 7.8: Explosive energy released during different phases of rock blasting

The area under the pressure - volume curve represents the energy released during
blasting and is partitioned into the following components or phases:

• detonation phase (Zone 1)

• shock wave propagation phase (Zones 2 and 3)
• gas pressure expansion phase (Zones 4 and 5)
• burden rock movement phase (Zones 6 and 7).

Energy Released During Detonation

The energy released during the detonation phase is represented by Zone 1. In

decoupled charges, the gases expand and occupy the blast hole volume Vb. During this
process the pressure of the explosion gases drops from Pe to Pb. This energy will be
converted into the kinetic energy of the explosion gases. Since the explosion gases do
not act on the rock until they fully occupy the blast hole, the energy represented by
Zone 1 is not considered to contribute significantly to the rock blasting process. In a
fully coupled blast hole, the explosion pressure will be equal to the borehole pressure.

Energy Released During Shock Wave Propagation

In this phase, the explosion gases expand from the initial blast hole volume (Vb) to the
expanded blast hole volume at the equilibrium state (Veq). The energy released during

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

this phase is defined as the shock energy and is represented by the area PABQ as shown
in Figure 7.8. The line PB in Figure 7.8 represents the response of the blast hole wall to
the explosive loading and is a function of the dynamic Young’s Modulus and Poisson’s
Ratio of the surrounding rock mass. The shock energy is divided into two components:
the kinetic component (Ekse - Zone 2) and the strain component (Esse - Zone 3). The
kinetic component of shock energy is utilised in expanding the blast hole and crushing
the surrounding rock. The strain component is the energy stored in the rock at the
equilibrium state and is assumed to be responsible for creating the primary fracture
network around the blast hole.

The strain component of shock energy (Esse) is represented by the area of the triangle
PBQ in Figure 7.8 and the kinetic component is estimated by subtracting the strain
component from the total shock energy.

Energy Released during Gas Pressure Expansion

The energy released during the gas pressure phase is represented by the area QBCR in
Figure 7.8 and is called the gas expansion energy, Eg. The line QC is the response of the
rock mass to the gas penetration into the gas fractures. In this phase, the energy is
utilised for two purposes. Firstly, the existing fractures are extended (crack extension
energy) and secondly, as potential heave energy in compressing the surrounding rock.
The potential heave energy is represented by the area of the triangle QCR. Once the
burden rock is detached from the blast hole the potential heave energy stored in the
rock mass will be utilised in the initial burden movement. The crack extension energy
is estimated by subtracting the potential heave energy from the gas expansion energy.

It is assumed that the majority of the fragmentation process will be completed before
burden movement begins. Since the energy in Zones 2, 3 and 4 is assumed to be
responsible for crushing and for creating and extending the primary fracture network
in the rock mass, it is defined as the potential fragmentation energy (Efe).

Energy Released during Burden Movement

The explosion gases trapped in the rock mass push the burden rock forward and
occupy the space created by this burden movement. The line RD is a function of
burden rock movement due to explosive loading. The energy released during the
burden movement phase is represented by the area RCDS and is divided into two
components. The first is the kinetic energy (Eke) imparted to the burden rock, and the
other as the potential energy (Epe) stored in the rock mass at the terminal conditions.
The potential energy stored in the burden rock at the terminal conditions is assumed to
contribute very little to the fragmentation or heave and is estimated by the area of the
triangle RDS. The kinetic energy imparted to the burden rock contributes to the

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

movement of the burden and is estimated by deducting the Epe from the effective
energy released during the burden movement phase (Ebm).

The energy represented by Zones 5 and 6 is assumed to be responsible for the

movement of the burden rock and hence is defined as the potential burden movement
energy (Ebme). The energy released during the gas phase and the burden movement
phase is defined as the heave energy (Eh) and is assumed to be responsible for the heave
of the rock mass. The energy released by the explosion gases from the state when they
fully occupy the blast hole until they reach terminal conditions is defined as the
blasting energy (Ebe).

Comparison of Blasting Energy with Total Available Energy

Table 7.3 shows a comparison of the available energy (Section 7.5.3) and the blasting
energy estimated by EXEN for ANFO, an Emulsion and a Heavy ANFO for blasts in
three different rock types. The data required to model this performance were acquired
from JKMRC field projects at the Mount Leyshon gold mine in North Queensland, the
Mt. Thorley Colliery in New South Wales and the Leigh Creek coal mine in South

Table 7.3: Energy estimates for different rock masses

(Edym = Dynamic Young’s Modulus)

Available Mount Leyshon Mount Thorley Leigh Creek

Explosive Energy (gold) (coal) (coal)
(MJ/kg) Edyn = 48 GPa Edyn = 13 GPa Edyn = 10 GPa
Ebe Es: Eh Ebe. Es: Eh Ebe. Es: Eh
ANFO 3.79 2.19 11:89 2.42 18:81 2.05 25:75
Emulsion 3,12 1.85 18:82 1.63 30:70 1.43 37:63
HANFO 3.46 1.66 17:83 1.78 26:74

The available energy values for ANFO, Emulsion and HANFO were estimated by
IDEX (Sheahan 1994) which is an ideal detonation code used to model the energy
released by explosive detonation.

The comparison shows that the energy released by an explosive during blasting is only
a fraction of its total available energy and is dependent on the rock type and the
confinement provided. Similarly, the partition of energy is a function of rock type.
The percentage of shock energy of an explosive is higher in softer rocks than in harder

The partition of energy released by an explosive has a significant influence on blasting

performance. For example, the rock at Mount Leyshon is hard and the primary

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

objective of blasting is to produce good fragmentation. The partition of energy values

from Table 7.3 indicates that an emulsion or HANFO should produce better
fragmentation than ANFO because of their higher shock energy despite lower overall
blast energy.

The overburden rock at Leigh Creek in South Australia is soft and well structured. The
primary objective of blasting is to produce a loose muckpile for easy digging. The
partition of energy suggests that both ANFO and emulsion release a significant
percentage of their energy as shock energy and may produce unwanted crushing
around the blast holes. Therefore, in this rock type a low shock energy explosive may
be more appropriate

The results of EXEN modelling can explain many of the ‘odd’ or ‘curious’ blasting
results often observed in the field. Even without access to the full quantitative model,
the basic relationships and trends in blasting performance for different explosives in
different rock masses indicated by EXEN can greatly assist the blasting engineer in the
selection of the most appropriate explosive for particular blasting situations. The
reader is referred to Sarma (1994) for greater detail.


7.7.1 Traditional Approaches

Work by the United States Bureau of Mines (USBM) in the 1950s (Leet 1960) indicated
that it was desirable to match the impedance of the rock and the explosive. Tests in a
granite showed that the amount of energy transferred to the rock by the explosive was
a linear function of the density of the explosive multiplied by its velocity of detonation.
The investigation concluded that the closer that this product of density and VOD was
to the product of P-wave velocity and density for the rock (seismic impedance), the
better the energy transfer. This means that a strong, stiff, dense rock (high P-wave
velocity and density) requires a high VOD and high density explosive.

A high quality granite with a P-wave velocity of 4500 m/s and density of 3.5 g/cm3
has an impedance of 15750 units. This can only be approached by TNT or TNT/RDX
high explosive formulations with VODs of 7000 m/s and densities around 1.65. Such
explosives still fall 30% short in impedance. Explosives can be selected to match the
impedance of weaker rocks. Coal measure overburdens may have a P-wave velocity of
3,000 m/s at a density of 2.6 g/cm3, giving an impedance of 7800 units. This could be
matched by an emulsion explosive with VOD of 6000 m/s at a density of 1.3 g/cm3.
Such a product would have to be highly fuelled, and would be expensive. Recent work
(Sarma 1994) shows that the balance between shock and heave energy would not be
desirable for such a combination.

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

In practice, the advent of bulk explosives has revolutionised the relative economy of
blasting since the early 1960s. Common practice demonstrates that endeavouring to
match explosive and rock impedance does not produce economic designs in open cut

7.7.2 Physical Requirements - a practical check list

A simple check list can be used to compare the conditions prevailing at the blast site
with the physical attributes of the available explosives. This will at least eliminate
unsuitable products. Factors include:

Water ANFO cannot be used in wet conditions. If there is a substantial

amount of water in a blast hole then it must either be pumped
out or displaced by pumping a highly water-resistant explosive
to the bottom of the hole. Ground water conditions will
determine how quickly a hole will recharge after being
dewatered. Recurring water necessitates the use of highly
water-resistant explosives.

Top loading water-proof explosives have been developed and

trialed by some manufacturers. These products are not yet in
widespread use and their performance must be evaluated to
ensure that they successfully displace the water without
sustaining damage that reduces their explosive performance.

HANFOs vary in their degree of water resistance depending on

the proportion of liquid and solid phases. HANFOs may be
used in damp blast holes that carry a short column of water (say
less than 1 m) but the lower (contaminated) portion of the
charge should not be expected to perform to specification. Care
must be exercised in locating the primer in high quality
explosive and not in the water affected zone.

A strategy for designing blasts for various ground water

conditions should be jointly defined with the explosives
supplier. A conservative approach should be adopted initially,
and modified by careful observation of field performance.

Blast Hole Diameter Each explosive has a critical diameter below which it may not
reliably detonate. The critical diameter varies from around 50
mm for loose poured ANFO to over 150 mm for some ANFO-
emulsion blends. It is recommended that in designing blasts
using holes below about 170 mm in diameter, the
recommendations of the supplier are sought, especially if

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

emulsion, ANFO emulsion blends or diluted ANFOs are to be

used. As well as checking the reliability of detonation at these
diameters, it is also recommended that the priming require-
ments be checked.

Sleep Time Some explosives are not suited to being ‘slept’ for long periods
between loading and firing. Again, advice from the
manufacturers should be enhanced by local experience and
careful observation to define local guidelines for sleeping
charges. If scheduling constraints require that a shot must be
slept, then consideration should be given to using a more robust
explosive. A detonation failure is both dangerous and expensive
to recover from.

Reactive Rocks Some rocks contain minerals or host ground water that may
chemically interact with the explosive to reduce blasting
performance. Evidence may vary from the presence of fume to
an obvious reduction in blasting performance or even explosive
failure. Again expert advice and local experience need to be
combined to establish formal site practices with regard to
explosive selection, loading and priming techniques and
sleeping practices.

Hot Ground Some pyritic ores can generate excessive heat through oxidation.
A few mines are being worked in areas of geothermal anomaly.
Special explosives are available for use in hot or reactive ground
and advice should be sought when working in rock
temperatures over 50°C.

7.7.3 Matching Shock and Heave to Blast Requirements

Blasting requirements are strongly influenced by:

• the degree of existing fracturing and therefore the in situ block sizes which control
the degree of new breakage required

• where significant breakage is necessary, the material strength and breakage

characteristics control the type and amount of explosive energy required

• the dynamic properties of the rock mass which describe the ease with which the
rock transmits or absorbs dynamic strain energy

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

• the stiffness or degree of brittleness as opposed to the plasticity of the rock mass
which influence its fracture and displacement behaviour

• the porosity and density of the rock mass which determine the detailed interaction
with explosion gases and the inertial characteristics of the rock, and influence the
time required for burden movement.

The explosive-rock interaction model described in Section 7.6.3 simplifies these factors
down to a measure of the rock mass stiffness, the dynamic Young's Modulus.
Nevertheless, a sensible analysis of the relative merits of different explosives in
different rock masses is provided by this approach. Conclusions from such an analysis
can be modified subjectively based on the factors listed above and confirmed by careful
observation in the field, as described in Chapters 3 and 4.

However a simpler approach can be adopted initially. The two fundamental

requirements are that the rock be fragmented and loosened. These two objectives are
achieved by explosive shock and heave respectively. Consider the design space
described in Figure 7.9. Rock can vary in its intact strength over a wide range.
Stronger rocks tend to be more brittle, while weaker rocks tend to be more porous and
soft. Either strong or weak rocks can be massive or strongly structured. These
parameters define the axes on Figure 7.9.

Strong rocks with few fractures require a great deal of fundamental fracture generation
which requires a lot of shock energy, as provided by emulsions. A rock mass of the
same strength, but intensely fractured, only needs the natural fragments loosened and
displaced to produce a satisfactory blasting result. The rock mass itself may still be
quite strong, so considerable energy may be necessary to do this, and a HANFO type
of explosive may be required.

Emulsions HANFOS
Rock strength


Fracture density

Figure 7.9: Simple allocation of explosives

Weaker rocks may still require new fracture generation, but the provision of a lot of
shock energy will simply be taken up by excessive crushing in the region of the blast
hole. ANFO is found to perform very well in these environments. As the fracture

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

frequency increases in weak materials, porosity tends to increase considerably and

slower explosives are required. This is where the diluted ANFOs come into their own.

The recommendations made above refer to dry blasting conditions. Wet conditions
require a water-resistant explosive and this means a substantial proportion of emulsion
phase. This in turn increases the VOD and density, and hence the proportion of shock
energy produced. The absence of a low shock, water-resistant explosive in the market
place creates a problem for the blasting engineer and often results in over blasting in
wet areas.

If some areas of a mine are known to be wet, it is important to design hole size and
pattern to allow for the use of water resistant explosives so that the energy distribution
can be balanced with the needs of the material being blasted. Problems arise when the
need to use water-resistant explosives becomes apparent after the pattern has been

7.7.4 Tailoring Results to Expectations

An important theme developed in this book is the importance of developing guidelines

for design based not only on blasting science and good practice, but on local
experience. To be effective, local experience must come from carefully observed and
quantified field performance and not from hearsay or impressions accumulated from
transient or disinterested by-standers. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss field techniques for the
assessment of blasting performance that can be used to establish the suitability or
otherwise of particular aspects of design, including explosive selection. A theoretically
guided trial and error technique for explosive selection based on comparing predicted
blasting performance with actual performance has been developed by Grouhel (1992)
and encapsulated in a tool called DESIGNER.

DESIGNER is a spreadsheet based explosive selection model for open pit mines. It
contains models which describe:

• rock mass structure

• blast geometry and explosive distribution
• explosive characteristics
• predicted fragmentation
• predicted muckpile shape
• costs.

The models are empirical and rely on field data for calibration. Explosive properties
are represented by Available Energy, VOD and density. Fragmentation is predicted by

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

a modified Kuz Ram model (Cunningham 1982) and muckpile shape by a simple
model based on Whiten’s reduced efficiency equation (Nageswararao 1978).

Sarma (1994) proposed a qualitative framework for the selection of an appropriate

explosive and for optimising blast design based on matching the predicted blasting
results with the desired results. Firstly, the physical characteristics of the explosive
must be matched with the field conditions. Secondly, the data from controlled blast
monitoring experiments are used to predict blasting performance indicators such as
fragmentation, throw, fines and damage. Finally, the predicted blasting performance
indicators are matched with the desired results in an iterative process until an
optimum explosive and blast design is reached (Figure 7.10).


Increase Efe Is Options
Decrease B No Ps > Ds Increase Ebe
Use secondary Decrease B

Options No
looseness OK
Decrease Esse
Decrease Ecee Yes
Decrease confinement

Is Options
damage Change
Yes excessive No explosive

Options Yes excessive
Reduce Ekse
Decouple explosive No

Yes optimum

Figure 7.10: A framework for optimising explosive selection and blast performance

Chapter 7: Explosive Selection

Matching the predicted blasting performance indicators to the desired results has to be
done as an iterative process. This can be achieved by changing the combination of
explosive energy and blast design. The matching of each blasting result has to be done
step by step. For example, after matching the predicted fragmentation size (Ps) with
the desired fragmentation size (Ds), the indicators of muckpile looseness such as
percentage of throw or heave need to be tested. If the predicted indicator of looseness
is not matched by the desired result, the design must be changed and the process
started again from the beginning. Once all the predicted blasting results are matched
with the desired results, the selection of that particular combination of explosive and
blast design should be analysed in terms of its cost. If the cost is not acceptable, the
process will re-start until the desired results are obtained in a cost effective way.

Most operations undertake a trial and error optimisation such as this as a matter of
good practice. Providing a more formal structure to this process and approaching the
problem in a systematic way not only shortens the time required to achieve significant
improvement, but also makes the process less dependent on any particular individual.
If this systematic optimisation process is adequately documented it should be possible
for changes in blasting personnel to occur without causing major disruption to the on-
going refinement of blasting operations.


Drilling and blasting is regarded as a discrete cost centre in most mining operations.
Historically, this has led to pressure to minimise the cost of the blasting operation
which, in itself, is valid. However, there is increasing recognition that blasting can
have a critical influence over many aspects of the downstream excavation, transport
and processing performance, and even the ultimate value of the saleable mine product.
Target performance should be defined to maximise the productivity and minimise the
cost of the entire production system, not just the blasting operation. Explosive
selection forms a critical step in this process as explosive properties should be selected
to meet the broad objectives of the overall operation and should not just be based on
the cheapest cost per kilogram or unit of ‘explosive energy’.