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The Benefits of Bulk Emulsion Explosives in Underground Development Mining

S Parsons 1 and N Bennett 2


This paper examines the practical and economic benefits of using bulk emulsion explosives in underground development mining; compared to ANFO, ANFO derivatives and packaged explosives. The key economic benefit of bulk emulsion is the replacement of relatively high cost packaged explosives with a bulk product. Key practical benefits include water resistance, improved coupling of explosive, reduced toxic gas production, increased shock energy and improved manual handling through the use of bulk products. Each of the benefits is proven using a variety of measurements and field results in order to quantify them. Where possible, dollar values are determined so that the benefits can be shown to translate into savings for the mine operator. The results show that, despite the difference in price between ANFO and bulk emulsions, bulk emulsions are most capable of delivering the lowest total cost of blasting. The savings potential of the introduction of bulk emulsion systems can result in an improvement in drill and blast costs for a mine operator, or a significant increase in profit margin for a contract mining company.


Packaged emulsion is traditionally used for charging wet holes, with operators manually loading each cartridge into the hole, then tamping in place. The effective coupling using this technique is generally in the range of 60 - 70 per cent. By loading with a water resistant bulk emulsion, 100 per cent coupling is achieved, providing much greater energy for breakage. The manual handing of boxes and cartridges is removed, with the hose simply inserted to the toe of the hole and the pumped emulsion slowly filling the hole to the desired collar. Perimeter products vary from low-density bulk products to packaged decoupled charges or high strength detonating cord. String loaded bulk emulsion achieves results comparable to packaged decoupled charges whilst maintaining the manual handling and cost benefits of a bulk product. Charge rates as low as 0.35 kg/m in a 45 mm blasthole are achievable using bulk emulsions; with the string size controlled by simply changing hose retract speed. Bulk emulsion explosives detonate with a higher velocity of detonation (VoD) than ANFO. The shock energy component is therefore higher in bulk emulsions than ANFO, providing more energy for breaking the rock rather than moving it. With in situ block size generally much larger than that required for development mining, it is preferable to have as much energy available for breakage as possible, creating smaller blocks more suited to the breakage and clearing methods used in development rounds.


Water resistance

Bulk emulsions have excellent water resistance properties and, as such, all wet holes including those drilled below horizontal can

1. Technical Consultant, Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific, Level 6, 553 Hay Street, Perth WA 6000. Email:

2. Business Manager Underground West, Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific, Level 6, 553 Hay Street, Perth WA 6000. Email:

be charged successfully without dewatering. Charging of wet holes is essentially the same as a dry hole. The emulsion is pumped, via the hose, to the back of the hole, completely filling it. As the hose is withdrawn, the water is displaced from the hole as the emulsion is pumped in.


Completely filling the hole is of particular significance where bulk emulsion replaces packaged products. Adamson et al (2000) found using plastic packaged 32 mm diameter emulsion cartridges and best practice tamping techniques yielded a coupling ratio of only 60 per cent of the hole volume. This is the equivalent of a 35 mm diameter cartridge in a 45 mm diameter hole. This decoupled charge results in a breakage radius of half of the blow-loaded ANFO equivalent charge. Plastic tube charges fare even worse, with cartridge diameters around 30 mm, resulting in even greater decoupling and reduced breakage radius. Lifter and knee hole performance is excellent with the improved coupling of bulk emulsion compared to packaged products. This can result in the opportunity to remove knee holes and expand the burden between holes at the bottom of the face. Ground vibration monitoring has indicated that increased burdens on lifter and knee holes did not affect the blast performance. With bulk emulsion, around two-thirds of the holes drilled in the face can be drilled below horizontal, providing a more even charge distribution throughout the face. The burn, box and diamond, a total of 17 holes, are the only holes in the face drilled above horizontal. Further trials are required to investigate the performance of burns drilled below horizontal, with particular emphasis on the performance of water-filled relief holes.

Perimeter charging

Perimeter holes are charged using Dyno Nobel’s patented string loading process. The charge hose is retracted from the back of the hole using a motor driving a set of wheels. This allows the emulsion to be loaded at a set rate per metre, according to the speed at which the hose is retracted. String charging has been successfully used to load charge densities of 0.35 kg/m in tunnelling applications and down to 0.70 kg/m for mining applications. Breakage radii for common perimeter products were calculated using the Holmberg-Persson method and JKSimblast software and are listed in Table 1. Qualitative results are difficult to compare between perimeter products in most mining operations at present, due to popularity of in-cycle fibrecrete as the surface support. This prevents visual inspection of the backs and walls and hides any potential deterioration in the rock mass following mining. Inspections carried out immediately following blasting reveal an increase in the number of half-barrels evident in the backs and upper walls when using emulsion.

Advance rates

Face advance per round has improved with the introduction of bulk emulsions. For example, a mine in the North-Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia had experienced very good

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Energy distribution distances of various perimeter charges.


Charge type

Breakage radius


Packaged tube type charge, 19 mm diameter




Packaged tube type charge, 29 mm diameter




70 g/m detonating cord

0.05 m


String charge with 1.5 kg toe charge, 0.35 kg/m string




ANFO/polystyrene blend, 50% ANFO, blow loaded




Blow loaded ANFO




Bulk emulsion, 1.0 g/cc density



results when firing 5.8 m long rounds using ANFO and ANFO-derived products. The historical advance per round was in the order of 5.3 - 5.5 m per round, which is between 93 per cent and 95 per cent of a full round. Following the introduction of bulk emulsion, the advance improved to the point where, upon scaling, the advance achieved would be between 100 per cent and 102 per cent. The faces quickly scaled to a solid base giving the operator a strong indication of when to stop scaling.

Improved re-entry times

The instantaneous gas levels resulting from five blasts monitored between 4 and 6 July 2006 were recorded at a mine in the North-Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia using an Odalog 6000 multigas logger. Gases monitored included carbon monoxide (CO), oxygen (O 2 ), hydrogen sulfide (H 2 S), nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ). The first three blasts used Titan 7000 in short rounds, 4.2 m hole length. The final two blasts used ANFO and Titan 7000 respectively, in long rounds with 5.8 m hole length. A graph displaying the results of the monitoring for the 5.8 m rounds is illustrated in Figure 1. The CO gas levels took the greatest amount of time to be diluted to below short-term exposure limit (STEL) for both ANFO and Titan 7000. The time taken for fumes to clear the face for a round charged with ANFO or Titan 7000 is not significantly different. Fumes took between 20 and 25 minutes to reach the portal 1.1 km from the face after firing. Peak CO levels were above 500 ppm (maximum recordable level) for both ANFO and Titan 7000 but were not at these levels

for a significant amount of time. Peak NO and NO 2 levels are significantly greater for ANFO blasts. Bakke et al (2001) show a relationship between high peak exposures to NO 2 from blasting fumes and a temporary decrease in lung function. Lung function returns to normal after approximately ten days without exposure. It should also be noted that NO x gas is toxic and can lead to pulmonary oedema and death if inhaled at sufficiently high quantities.

Velocity of detonation (VoD)

Bulk emulsion explosives detonate with a higher VoD than ANFO under the same conditions. The energy partition diagram (Figure 2) illustrates the effect that VoD has on the amount of energy converted into shock and heave energy during detonation. The shock energy component is higher in bulk emulsions than ANFO, providing more energy for breaking the rock rather than moving it. The higher VoD produces higher detonation pressure, which results in more intense fracturing of the rock. With the in situ block size generally much larger than that required for development mining, it is preferable to have as much energy available for breakage as possible.

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Increasing Velocity of Detonation

Increasing Velocity of Detonation

FIG 2 - Energy partition diagram.

The VoD of the first fired hole was measured using a ShotTrack time-domain reflectometer (TDR) over a series of blasts at a mine in the North Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. The ShotTrack works by measuring the length of a

ANFO versus Titan 7000 Fumes

600 T7000 CO T7000 H2S 500 T7000 NO2 T7000 NO ANFO CO 400 ANFO H2S
T7000 CO
T7000 H2S
T7000 NO2
T7000 NO


Time (minutes)

FIG 1 - Gas levels from 5.8 m round.

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coaxial cable installed in the hole 100 000 times per second. As the detonation front travels along the explosive column, the cable is consumed. The slope of the resulting graph of cable length versus time is the VoD of the explosive. A typical VoD trace is illustrated in Figure 3. The VoD ranged from 3600 to 3800 m/s, which agrees with theoretical calculations for Titan 7000 at a density of 0.90 g/cm 3 , calculated using the Vixen ideal detonation code developed by African Explosives Limited (Cunningham, Braithwaite and Parker, 2006). As a comparison, VoD values for ANFO are typically 3000 m/s.

Face pattern optimisation

A standard ANFO pattern will generally be modified to take advantage of the characteristics and benefits of bulk emulsions in the following ways:

the burden on all fully charged holes can be increased as the breakage radius for emulsion is greater than ANFO;

the central knee holes are shifted upwards, increasing the burden on the lifters;

the offset of the shoulder and knee holes with respect to the back and lifter holes can be increased; and

a number of stripping holes can be removed and the burden on the remaining holes adjusted.

As the string loading method achieves similar results to packaged decoupled charges, burdens and spacings for perimeter holes should remain the same.

Metered hole loading and explosive consumption

The liquid form of bulk emulsions, combined with the pumping systems commonly used, allow for accurate metering of quantities of emulsion and trace chemicals using commercially available programmable logic controllers (PLCs). For standard holes, this results in an accurate, repeatable amount of emulsion, delivered at the correct density to each hole. For string loading, PLCs also allow for control of hose retract speed, which determines the size of the emulsion string. Metered hole loading also prevents much of the spillage typical of a face charged with blow loaded ANFO. The application of longer standard collar lengths can be achieved due to the loading accuracy achieved with the PLCs. A typical uncharged collar length for a face charged with bulk emulsion is around 0.7 to 1.0 m. This will reduce the amount of explosives required to charge the face, with a 1.0 m collar in a 64 hole face saving around 56 kg of equivalent ANFO.

Charging time

Reducing the time required to charge a face provides a number of benefits to the operation. The most obvious is the ability to charge more headings in a given shift. However, the most significant benefit is a reduction in the overall exposure of operators to the hazards associated with charging a face. Most operators have reported a 20 - 30 per cent reduction in the time to complete charging. Time savings are achieved by:

not having to individually load and tamp packaged product,

not having to switch products to charge perimeter holes, and

loading the holes at a faster rate through faster pumping rates.

Safer delivery system

Underground ANFO delivery systems are based on using high pressure air to deliver the product to the end of the charge hose. This is achieved using either a venturi style loader or a pressurised kettle, or a mixture of both. The operating pressure of the systems can be up to 650 kPa. Working with high pressure systems exposes operators to a number of hazards, including:

the discharge of the ANFO from the end of the charge hose – it can travel at over 200 km/h, and

issues associated with use of the pressurised ANFO kettle.

Development-specific emulsion loading systems are able to operate at much lower delivery pressures whilst maintaining loading rates of up to 100 kg per minute. The back pressure on the charge hose is just enough to gently push the hose from the hole whilst charging.

Transport, storage and handling

The transport and storage of bulk emulsions is generally easier than ANFO due to the classification of unsensitised bulk emulsions as an oxidising agent, rather than an explosive. Liquid emulsions are easily transported by road as a dangerous goods load in either road tankers or Isotainers. On-site storage is generally in vertical tanks or, for temporary sites, in Isotainers. Storage as a dangerous good is particularly useful on remote sites subject to seasonal rainfall, as the licensing and storage requirements for ANFO can restrict the quantities permitted on site. As a bulk liquid, emulsions can easily be pumped from the site storage facility into the underground unit using a simple, air powered ‘Wilden’ type diaphragm pump. In comparison, ANFO handling systems vary from simply loading 20 kg bags directly into the kettle, loading kettles with bulkabags and an IT with jib,

VoD (km/s)






and an IT with jib, VoD (km/s) 4 3 2 1 0 Average VoD 3660 m/s

Average VoD 3660 m/s




Length (m)



FIG 3 - Velocity of detonation (VoD) trace.

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through to overhead rail systems in underground magazines. These systems have various drawbacks, including being labour intensive or requiring expensive equipment.

Scorpion ® direct priming

Dyno Nobel’s Titan 7000 emulsion can be reliably initiated with

a #12 detonator in a 45 mm diameter blasthole. Blow loaded

ANFO can also be reliably detonated with a #12 detonator; however, the conventional loading technique coupled with water

in the blasthole and the deleterious effect of water on ANFO can

lead to misfires. The emulsion loading technique allows for reliable full encapsulation of the detonator with a water resistant explosive and displacement of all water from the blasthole.

As a result, conventional packaged emulsion primers can be replaced with a simple device to centralise and protect the detonators in the blasthole. The Scorpion is an example of such a device, constructed from extruded plastic. It is illustrated in Figure 4 and comprises four fins attached to a central spine and facilitates direct priming of blastholes with detonators.

facilitates direct priming of blastholes with detonators. F IG 4 - Detonator centraliser. As the Scorpion

FIG 4 - Detonator centraliser.

As the Scorpion is not an explosive, the ‘primer’ can be assembled in the detonator magazine prior to charging, and be transported to the face fully assembled.


Table 2 is a generic summary of the savings available when replacing ANFO with bulk emulsion in a development heading. The savings are described both as a theoretical dollar value, and as a percentage of the cost of explosives required for a typical ANFO round.


Savings in explosives costs per face charged.


Savings per

Reduction in explosives costs (%)

round (A$)

Replacement of packaged emulsions in wet holes



Replacement of tube charges in perimeter holes



Replacement of tube charges in wet holes (eg lifters)



Reduced number of easer holes in face



Replacement of packaged emulsion primers with Scorpion



Improved metering with longer uncharged collar lengths



The parameters used for the calculations are:

64 hole pattern, 4.2 m round;

knee holes and lifters considered wet; and

perimeter products used grade line to grade line.

Replacement of packaged products

The major economic benefit associated with the use of bulk explosives in development blasting is gained by replacing packaged emulsion products or tube products used in lifter, knee and perimeter holes. These products are very expensive compared to bulk products, with bulk emulsion 40 per cent to 60 per cent cheaper than the packaged products. It is also time consuming to load packaged products, particularly plastic film packaged emulsions, as each cartridge needs to be tamped. Combined with the higher loading rates of bulk emulsion systems, the time saved in charging a face can be around three

per cent of the overall drill and blast costs for each round. There

is also the lost opportunity cost that comes with the extra time

required for each face.

Reduced number of holes

Along with the savings in explosives costs outlined in Table 2, it stands to reason that there are savings to be made in not having

to drill the holes to begin with. Removing five holes from a face

could save 15 minutes of drilling time along with savings in consumables. This would save a typical operation $156.53 per face in drill and blast costs, or around six per cent of the cost to drill and blast a face.

Reduced explosive requirements

With improved metering, longer collars and reduced spillage,

savings of around $57 per face, or 6.4 per cent of explosive costs are easily achievable. It is assumed that around 10 kg of ANFO

is lost on the ground during charging operations, not including

prime up.

Improved advance per round

Using the example detailed in the practical benefits section, a seven per cent improvement in advance will result in a cost benefit due to the extra metres advance achieved without increasing drill and blast costs. Using the parameters detailed above, a seven per cent increase is an extra advance of 0.29 m per round. If the operation achieves an average of four rounds per shift, this will result in an extra 72.9 m per month. The additional drill and blast costs that would normally be required to achieve these metres would be $42 666 per month.

Primer costs


plastic detonator centraliser and protector such as the Scorpion


a much cheaper priming system than packaged emulsions or

cast primers. Replacing packaged emulsion primers with

Scorpion primer can save $53 per face, or around eight per cent

of explosives costs.


Bulk ANFO is cheaper to manufacture than bulk emulsions. Delivered to site, ANFO is generally about 40 per cent cheaper than bulk emulsions. Incorporating the savings outlined above, the lowest total cost of charging and blasting a face is, however, not achievable using the cheapest bulk explosive (ANFO). Bulk emulsions instead in development mining have the potential to reduce explosives costs by 25 per cent and reduce overall drill and blast costs by 14 per cent. For a typical underground


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operation charging four faces a shift, this would save over $54 000 a month, or $650 000 a year in explosive costs and almost $92 000 a month or $1 103 000 a year in drill and blast costs. The combination of these savings, and the practical benefits outlined previously, has led numerous underground mining operations to change from ANFO based development mining to bulk emulsions. These include mining contractors and owner- operators, with annual development rates between 3.6 and 15.6 km. The acceptance of bulk emulsion systems by the operators has been exceptionally high, with very few wishing to return to ANFO once familiar with the bulk emulsion systems.


Adamson, W, McKern, E J, Pearce, D O and Duke, D D, 2000. The influence of cartridge length and tamping practices on the efficiency of packaged emulsion explosives in development blasting, in Proceedings First World Conference on Explosives and Blasting Technique (ed: R Holmberg), pp 259-264 (Balkema: Rotterdam). Bakke, B, Ulvestad, B, Stewart, P, Lund, M B and Eduard, W, 2001. Effects of blasting fumes on exposure and short-term lung function changes in tunnel construction workers, Scand J Work Environ Health, 27(4):250-257. Cunningham, C, Braithwaite, M and Parker, I, 2006. Vixen detonation codes: Energy input for the HSBM, in Proceedings Eighth International Symposium on Rock Fragmentation by Blasting:

FragBlast 8, Santiago, pp 169-174

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