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20 Quarry August 2012

he history of commercial explosives
is relatively short. Only 140 years
ago, the world was restricted to black
powder and nitro-glycerine based explosives.
In todays world of resource extraction, there
is an explosive for the majority of situations
and applications. However, what does this
mean for the user? It means choice, and
with choice comes compromise - between
explosive performance and cost. Is there a
perfect explosive for your needs?
The explosive supply and manufacturing
industry is the same as any other commercial
entity that provides something for sale. The
saleability of a product is based on the raw
materials cost, its availability, the technology
available, manufacturing costs as well as
transport versus the possible returns from the
sale of the product. Consider if the price of
corn was raised to the same value as that of
gold; we as consumers would see corn flakes
disappear from our supermarket shelves
overnight. The cost of manufacturing corn
flakes would negate the returns achievable.
The same is true for explosives, as is the adage
of getting what you pay for. We all want a
bargain but at what cost? With explosives, that
cost is available useable energy!
Many companies in the explosive industry
tailor their products to suit their resources and
their market. Traditionally Maxam supplies to
the quarry and smaller mines in Australia and
Rioflex produces exceptional results for these
consumers. This robust and reliable product
has seen Maxams quarry market share grow.
Rioflex, Maxams bulk variable density
product, is placed in the category of an
ammonium nitrate suspension gel. This
essentially means that Rioflex is a watergel in
the traditional sense. However, the watergels
of yesteryear are not the same as the Rioflex
matrixes of today. Emulsions, when they
first arrived on the market were hailed as
the future of explosives, and statements
and papers were produced to support the
technology change. The use of electron
microscopes to show the intimacy between
oxidiser and fuel produced undeniably great
imagery. The measurements of oxidisers in a
100 per cent emulsion phase were compared
to the size of oxidisers in slurries (watergels)
from the 1990s. Various companies used this
as evidence that the product would have a
higher velocity of detonation and therefore be
a better and more advanced technology.
However, the situation in the early days
of emulsion development is likely not to be
as relevant to how emulsions are made in
todays market. Cost, as mentioned before,
is the driving force in how products are made
and marketed. Emulsions are traditionally
aimed at large diameter blast hole markets
in large scale mines where single blasts can
consume 500 plus tonnes of bulk explosives.
Although clientele now want the best deal,
they remain oblivious to the rising cost of
production and development of blasting
products. Thus, the key for an emulsion
supplier is to make the emulsion based
explosive cheaper, which is likely the reverse
of the reason for their development in the
first place. To do this water may be added,
resulting in less energy.
Slurries or watergels get their name from
being partially composed of water and
containing long carbon chain molecules that
are cross-linked to a gelled, semi-solid state.
Thus the name watergel. Emulsions were
derived to take the energy thief water out
of the gel. With the expanding oil market,
copious oil derivatives were produced and
emulsions became cheaper to manufacture.
Then the emulsion phase needed the addition
of explosive grade ammonium nitrate prill
(PPAN), this process is called doping. The
most common and cheapest water resistant
bulk explosive is a 70 per cent emulsion
with a 30 per cent ammonium nitrate dope.
What the explosive suppliers realised is that
emulsions needed to be made with water
as well to make them more cost-effective,
as water is a low cost additive. The gain
of liquidising the oxidisers for intimacy is
soon reduced by the addition of ammonium
nitrate prill and the introduction of water to
the emulsion phase. The ultimate energy thief
for an explosive is water! Therefore, to make
high energy explosives, water content must
be reduced. Water provides no energy to
In the battle between water gels and emulsions for the perfect bulk explosive, Brent Buffham
explains that Maxams Rioex variable density product is the best compromise.
Figure 1. Sensitised Rioex. Figure 2. Unsensitised Rioex.
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Figure 3. HDAN at 20x magnication.
Figure 4. HDAN at 360x magnication, showing smooth edge of the prill.
Figure 6. PPAN at 360x magnication, showing the rough edge of the prill.
Figure 5. PPAN at 19x magnication.
08 Q AUG 12_revised pgs.indd 21 16/07/12 9:52 AM
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the bulk explosive when detonated. Waters
vaporisation essentially steals energy. In order
to heat one kilogram of water to vaporisation,
a whopping 2256 kilojoules per kilogram
of energy is required. Well, now we are
completely confused! Watergels have water
and emulsions have water, so how is one
better than the other?
Rioflex is not your usual watergel. It is
made with high grade and refined short
carbon chain fuels. This fuel is nitrated and
normalised and along with this, ammonium
nitrate is dissolved into the solution making
the base suspension media of the matrix.
Contrary to popular articles on watergels,
water content amounts to less than 13 per
cent of the final mix. The suspension media
has more ammonium nitrate prill, either
high density prill or porous explosive grade,
added. However, not before it is crushed
and made angular. This crushing process
takes the previously round ammonium nitrate
and increases the surface to mass ratio and
therefore drastically increases the reaction
speed and in turn the velocity of detonation
of the bulk product. At this point, a very
small percentage of water has been added,
so where does this watergel get its name?
Maybe its the same as when horses used to
roam the streets? They werent called streets,
they were called carriageways. Now we
have dual carriageways but no horses and
carts! We have watergels with less water
than emulsions.
This is where the water plays its part in
protecting and stabilising the product. The
carbon chains used in gelling are long and
they are all ravelled up into a little ball. They
require a medium to be suspended in so that
they can unravel, this is through hydration.
In order to do this Maxam uses a small
amount of water to suspend the fuel and
oxidiser, and that is it. Of all the explosive
phases or matrixes on the Australian
explosive market, Rioflex has the least water
content. Other manufacturers in the Australian
market may add up to 23 per cent water to
the emulsion phases of their bulk products.
It is important to understand that emulsions
Figure 7. HDAN post crushing at 21x magnication. Figure 8. HDAN at 360x magnication post-crushing.
08 Q AUG 12_revised pgs.indd 22 16/07/12 9:52 AM
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Highly angular and suspended
oxidisers. Increases the reaction speed.
Liquid oxidisers in a solution of
water. Requires doping which
reduces reaction speed.
Perfectly fuelled. Over fuelled.
Excellent velocity of detonation.
4600m/s to 6000m/s. *
Very good velocity of detonation.
3800m/s to 5600m/s. *
Viscosity in excess of 35,000
centipoise. Reduced product migration.
Lower viscosity.
Migration possible.
Less than 14% water content.
Less energy thieves.
Less than 23% water content.
More explosive energy thieves.
Can be doped if required with either
Can only be doped
with PPAN.
Has naturally inhibited qualities
for use in reactive ground.
Only suitable in reactive ground
when additional urea is added and
the cost on-charged.
Mechanically or chemically sensitised. Must be chemically sensitised.
Gelled Rioex resists migration in the
blast-hole and foreign water ingression.
Gassed Emulsion has no links between
suspended particles allowing for migration.
Optimal product for reduced loss
of precious minerals, such as gold.
No long hydrocarbon fuels,
Rioex spills dont consume
extractive chemicals.
Composed of waxes and oils.
Spills may consume precious metal
extractive chemicals, such as those in
a gold otation tank.
Maximum density 1.53g/cc Maximum density 1.35g/cc
Excellent pattern expansion
capabilities when working with
optimised emulsion patterns.
Reduced expansion possibilities in
comparison to Rioex.
followed prior to implementing in reactive or hot ground.
* Ideal Theoretical VODs that are effected by geological conditions, water,
hole diameter and others.
The above densities are not inhole critical densities, above values
equate to the limiting density of the base matrix/emulsion formulations.
of any type, explosives or not, use a chemical (emulsifier) to
blend two or more immiscible (non-blendable) liquids together.
As emulsions in terms of explosives are waxes, oils and oxidisers
in water, they have to be over-fuelled in general terms to reduce
noxious fumes of nitrous oxide when doped with ammonium nitrate.
Rioflex is perfectly formulated to ensure a near neutral oxygen-fuel
balance that, along with the intimate encapsulation of highly angular
ammonium nitrate, produces the optimal base matrix.
The gain that the industry achieves with emulsion phase
explosives creates a false economy, robbing Peter (energy) to pay
Paul (procurement). What many explosive users understand is what
you spend on drill and blast results in improved production in the
pit as well as through the crusher or mill in orders of magnitudes.
So to answer a question that was posed earlier: Is there a perfect
explosive for your needs? The answer is yes!
Brent Buffham is the technical manager for Maxam.
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