Research ignites explosives production

LONG waiting periods for a key group of explosives will be a thing of the past with state of the art testing facilities in Australia.

Long waiting periods for a key group of explosives will be a thing of the past with testing facilities in Australia.

The P5 explosives, part of a special group of permitted explosives in Australia, have been specifically designed for safe use in coal mining.

The explosives have had to be tested and manufactured overseas, leading to supply constraints in Australia.

“There are six groups of permitted explosives, and Australia only uses two,” University of News South Wales’ senior lecturer Duncan Chalmers told Australian Mining.

“The strongest of those is the P1 group, and the relatively weak group is called P5.”

The P5 group is primarily designed for stonework, but is sometimes used in coal, and P1 can be used in more rigorous conditions in the coal industry.

“Explosives used to be made from nitro-glycerine, but these days they are made from an emulsion which is a water-proof mix of fertiliser and fuel oil,” Chalmers said.

“Testing to ensure the P5 group was safe is conducted in Australia and Britain. However, the facilities in Australia could not test P1 explosives,” he said.

This caused a severe shortfall in P1 explosives.

“Mines couldn’t fully function because these explosives were unavailable, they were only available in limited quantities, or they were only available once every six months,” Chalmers said.

“A typical application for P1 explosives is in coal seams where gas drainage has been ineffective, and there is potential for outburst. This enables operators to break coal up without people present,” he said.


The aim of the research was to examine the tests which have remained largely unchanged over the last 100 years.

“The initial aim of the research was to examine the tests and determine the science behind them,” Chalmers said.

“By conducting the research we can develop facilities in Australia for P1 testing,” he said.

“Manufacturers in Australia now have the potential to make explosives here rather than import them from Europe.”

Testsafe, a division of WorkCover New South Wales, conducted the research at Londonderry.

“Australian Coal Association Research Program funded the research, with support from Orica, BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal, and Centennial Coal,” Chalmers said.


A number of key findings will benefit the mining industry, according to Chalmers.

“The latest development is that we were able to show one of the methods for testing explosives is not suitable for testing emulsions, however, it was applicable to the new nitro-glycerine explosives,” he said.

“Emulsions have not been passing a particular test. This has been a stumbling block for the industry over the last few years.”

“The test that was devised is suitable for nitro-glycerine, but not the new emulsions. New testing criteria had to be developed.”

Mine managers are demanding the supply of limited quantities of explosives to enable their businesses to function.

“It is hoped that the research will breach the impasse that we are currently having, and the development of new explosives to meet this small, but essential, demand will be achieved,” he said.


Chalmers encouraged mining companies to get behind research that will drive innovation in the industry.

“There is a wealth of experience and capacity within universities to conduct research and it can only go ahead if it is fully resourced,” Chalmers said.

“Research would be able to go further with more resources; having said that, we greatly appreciate the contribution that ACARP provides in order to fund projects.”

“The Australian Government and funding bodies see the mining industry as the wealthy industry, and therefore think they can afford to pay for its own research,” he said.

Duncan Chalmers

University of New South Wales

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