Editorial Feature

Investigating the Rheology of Emulsion Explosives

Emulsion explosive is a commonly used industrial explosive used in infrastructure development like mining, tunnel piercing, and bridge construction around the world. In research published in the Journal of Molecular Liquids, researchers summarized recent studies on rheological properties and discussed the connection between rheology and emulsifiers, oil materials, dispersed droplet size, and other factors.

Study: Advances in the rheology of emulsion explosive. Image Credit: Nordroden/Shutterstock.com

In most cases, an emulsion explosive is made in two processes. Oil materials and AN supersaturated solutions are emulsified into an emulsion explosive matrix, which is then mixed with hollow glass spheres (microspheres) or air bubbles to create an emulsion explosive. The primary idea behind industrial explosive formulation design is a zero oxygen balance.

The emulsion explosive matrix, which is generated in the initial preparation phase, has an extremely low initiation sensitivity. To enhance the stable explosion of emulsion explosives, it is required to implant a particular quantity of bubbles to produce hot spots in the beginning.

The rheology of emulsion explosives, or the emulsion explosive matrix, has been extensively investigated in recent years, both experimentally and conceptually. The mean diameter of dispersed droplets, polydispersity, emulsifiers, the dispersed phase volume fraction, and other factors all affect rheological properties.

Now, researchers have looked at the importance of rheology in evaluating the stability and performance of emulsion explosives. They also examined the challenges in existing emulsion explosive rheology research and gave recommendations for future study.


Polydispersity and deformation of scattered droplets are two microstructure properties that might be examined for emulsion explosive matrices. There are distinct micron-sized droplets in the matrix, as shown in Figure 1(a). Furthermore, emulsification shear can cause film rupturing and coalescence, resulting in the creation of isolated bigger droplets within a sea of smaller droplets.

During emulsification, the AN supersaturated solution is progressively poured into the melting oil at a moderate rotational speed, and the droplets are then refined by raising the rotational speed. If researchers simply increase the rotational speed in the refining process, the matrix droplet size decreases noticeably and the polydispersity of the droplets appears to be diminished at the same scale. As a result, it is worth noting that polydispersity is greatly influenced by the technical parameter of preparation.

The droplets are compressed and turned into polyhedrons to fill the space more firmly, with very small continuous phase layers between nearby drops.

The first thing to note is that the rheology of the so-called emulsion explosive encompasses practically the entire emulsion explosive matrix, or more precisely, the bulk emulsion explosive matrix (BEEM). Since this type of matrix will be transported over long distances by pipeline or by vehicle before being employed, it is important to consider its rheological behavior.

The properties of matrix steady-state flow have been extensively researched, and some of them can be characterized using well-known general constitutive laws. 

By plotting the results, researchers showed that when shearing is stopped for a short time, the refining of droplets caused by shear stress disappears. Additionally, no difference was observed in the photographs of the matrix before and after shearing, indicating that the matrix structure can go back to its initial state.

The recovery stage has the same shear rate as the standing stage. In the study, the two parameters were affected by the matrix’s shear stress and droplet size. A high shear rate leads to a high risk of matrix structure break. As a result, returning to its original structure is challenging.

The structure of the matrix that was sheared was more similar to its initial state when the droplet size was tiny.

A small oscillatory shear testing mode can be used to examine the linear viscoelastic behavior of the emulsion explosive matrix. When the strain is small, there is a linear viscoelastic region (LVER).

The crystallization of the supersaturated AN solution grows with time, as evidenced by the changing of the matrix microstructure assessed by rheology. 

The presence of polar groups in vegetable oils or waxes is a significant difference between the two compounds. As a result, polarity, in addition to viscosity, is a crucial element in matrix stability. By evaluating the fluctuation of G’ of the matrix created by biodiesel and mineral oil, which both have the same viscosity but different polarity, Zhao et al. discovered that increasing polarity affected the stability of the matrix significantly. 

AN crystal was not detected in these matrices, and the droplet size did not alter substantially among four PIBSA-based emulsifiers with the same hydrophobic chain but various hydrophilic groups, namely PIBSA-STEA, PIBSA-LTEA, PIBSA-DTEA, and PIBSA-DTEA.

Zhao et al. discovered a relationship between G’ and detonation velocity, both of which rise as droplet size decreases. The authors state that G’ is a valid criterion for analyzing the performance of emulsion explosives.

Despite the fact that the microstructure of the emulsion explosive matrix is comparable in all three-emulsion explosives, the post-sequence preparation procedure and explosive morphology are different.

Although it does not need long-distance pumping before blowing as a bulk emulsion explosive, the matrix of the other two explosives must travel a specific distance through a pipeline during production. The difference is that the other two explosives, particularly the powdered emulsion explosive, require a greater temperature for preparation due to their low water content.


In this study, researchers outline the present state of emulsion explosive rheology research. Both flow and viscoelasticity behavior were investigated experimentally and conceptually, as well as their tight relationship with microstructure, emulsifiers, and oil components.

Journal Reference:

Zhao, H. R., Wu, J., Xu, M. X., Zhang, K. M (2021) Advances in the rheology of emulsion explosive. Journal of Molecular Liquids, 336, p. 116854. Available Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167732221015786

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Skyla Baily

Written by

Skyla Baily

Skyla graduated from the University of Manchester with a BSocSc Hons in Social Anthropology. During her studies, Skyla worked as a research assistant, collaborating with a team of academics, and won a social engagement prize for her dissertation. With prior experience in writing and editing, Skyla joined the editorial team at AZoNetwork in the year after her graduation. Outside of work, Skyla’s interests include snowboarding, in which she used to compete internationally, and spending time discovering the bars, restaurants and activities Manchester has to offer!


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