and Development

AEL’s dedicated cutting edge Research and Development (R&D) department has one driving force and that is to develop innovative commercial explosives and initiating systems.

This ensures that AEL remains at the fore front of technology in its field whilst pursuing sustainable profitability and growth for companies operating in the Southern African, African and selected international explosives markets.

Housing a dedicated team of scientists and technicians who all offer vast and varied backgrounds in chemistry, physics, chemical and mechanical engineering, AEL’s R&D team covers a growing spectrum of scientific approaches to explosives and initiating systems.

The department exists to explore cutting edge research while offering field and plant support on all new and existing developed technologies. The team also ensures that the group maintains a firm grasp on the anticipated changes and developments in the world of explosives.To further its efforts in doing so, the team attends many conferences across all disciplines – including the National Institute of Explosives Technology, the South African Society of Rheology, the International Society of Explosives Engineers, the International Pyrotechnics Society, SAFEX and the European Federation of Explosive Engineers.

AEL’s R&D team is housed at the group’s headquarters in Modderfontein. The division is headed by industry specialist Cheryl Kelly, Global Research and Development Manager.

R&D Services

The R&D department at AEL Mining Services offers a range of analytical offerings to the mining and general industry at large.

FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy)

General Uses

  • Identification of all types of organic and many types of inorganic compounds
  • Determination of functional groups in organic materials
  • Determination of the molecular composition of surfaces
  • Quantitative determination of compounds in mixtures
  • Non-destructive method
  • Determination of molecular conformation (structural isomers) and stereochemistry (geometrical isomers)
  • Determination of molecular orientation (polymers and solutions)

Common Applications

  • Identification of compounds by matching spectrum of unknown compound with reference spectrum (fingerprinting)
  • Identification of functional groups in unknown
  • Identification of reaction components and kinetic studies of reactions
  • Identification of molecular orientation in polymer films
  • Detection of molecular impurities or additives present in amounts of 1% and in some cases as low as 0.01%
  • Identification of polymers, plastics, and resins

ARC (Accelerating Rate Calorimetry)

It is one of the methods used to investigate the thermal properties of energetic materials. Accelerating rate calorimetry is mostly used to evaluate the thermal hazards and accordingly set the safe limits for process, storage and transport temperatures. This information is determined by finding the onset temperature for thermal run-away reactions.

TGA (Thermo gravimetric analysis)

Thermogravimetry is a technique in which the mass of a sample is monitored against time or temperature while the temperature of the sample, in a specified atmosphere, is programmed. The thermobalances used in TG experiments are very sensitive, with mass resolution as small as 1 ug (1.0×10–6 g). These measurements can be used to help determine the overall kinetics of a decomposition reaction. The technique can also provide information on the various steps in the thermal decomposition of an energetic material.

DSC (Differential Scanning Calorimetry)

Differential scanning calorimetry is used to measure the onset temperature and energetics of phase transitions, to estimate sample purity, to determine heat capacities, and to measure the enthalpy change (?H°) and kinetic parameters of the decomposition process.


Rheology is defined as the flow of fluids and deformation of solids under applied stresses or strains.

The measurement of rheological properties is applicable to all material types – from fluids to semi-solids and even solid systems such as polymers and composites. Understanding the rheological properties of materials can help to develop a better product – since these physical properties often link material formulation and processing stages with the ultimate end use and product performance in the hands of customers and consumers.

The rheology of suspensions, colloidal dispersions and emulsions provide critical information for product and process performance in many industrial applications and in order for them to give proper product performance, or to process efficiently, they must be stable. But these are often complex formulations of solvents (or fluids), suspended particles of varying size and shape, and various additives used to affect stability.

Many factors affect stability, such as: hydrodynamic forces, Brownian motion, strength of interparticle interactions, volume fraction, electrostatic forces, steric repulsion, size and shape of particles, to name a few. Measuring the rheology of a formulation gives an indication of the colloidal state and interactions that are occurring.

Rheology based measurements can help predict which formulations might exhibit flocculation, coagulation or coalescence, resulting in undesired effects such as settling, creaming, separation, etc.

Some common rheology measurements and parameters include:

  • Flow behaviour of non-Newtonian materials, which helps indicate degree of dispersion and/or flocculation as well as shear thinning or thickening which often helps determine processing behaviour.
  • G’ (storage modulus) and G’’ (loss modulus) as a function of frequency which determines viscoelastic behaviour as a function of time (inverse of frequency), and can help determine the degree of stability of a formulation under “at rest” conditions or during transport.
  • Creep/recovery tests to determine zero shear viscosity or the maximum viscosity of the fluid phase that must be sufficiently high to prevent sedimentation

Powder Rheology

R&D is using the Freeman Technologies FT4 powder rheometer.

With the FT4 one can determine the following:

  • Study the flowability of conditioned, consolidated and aerated powders
  • Measure bulk density, permeability and compressibility
  • Generate high precision shear strength data
  • Quantify the impact of flowability of many variables such as moisture, segregation and attrition
  • Optimise formulations
  • Construct a database of powder characteristics for all your powders
  • Predict processability
  • Analyse abnormal process behaviour
  • Establish QC criteria for raw materials, intermediates and final product
  • Determine optimum powder characteristics for each item of plant

PSA (Particle size analysis)

Particle size analysis and measurement is an important parameter across many industries. The stability, chemical reactivity, opacity, flowability and material strength of many materials are affected by the size and characteristics of the particles within them. Getting things right at every stage of production, from R & D through to manufacture and quality control of the finished product is vital.

Surface area analysis (BET)

BET surface area analysis is a technique used to determine the specific surface area of powders, solids and granules, the values are expressed in meter square per gram.

Clean solid surfaces adsorb surrounding gas molecules and Brunauer, Emmett and Teller theory (BET) provides a mathematical model for the process of gas sorption. This physical adsorption of a gas over the entire exposed surface of a material and the filling of pores is called physisorption and is used to measure total surface area and pore size analysis of nanopores, micropores and mesopores.

The BET surface area measurement is crucial in understanding the behaviour of a material, as material reacts with its surroundings via its surface, a higher surface area material is more likely to react faster, dissolve faster and adsorb more gas than a similar material with a lower surface area.

Explosives services

MBP (Minimum burning pressure)

It is known that, following local ignition in water-based explosives, there is a minimum pressure required for combustion to propagate. The latter is usually referred to as the ‘Minimum Burning Pressure’ (MBP). The MBP is a very important and useful safety parameter as, if an explosive is maintained below its MBP, accidental ignition and propagation should not be possible.

Koenen test

This test is used to determine the sensitivity of a candidate ammonium nitrate emulsion or suspension or gel intermediate for blasting explosive, to the effect of intense heat under high confinement

Gap test

This test is used to determine the sensitivity of a candidate ammonium nitrate emulsion or suspension or gel intermediate for blasting explosive, to a specific shock level, i.e. to a specific donor charge and gap.

Reactive ground

Reactive ground may be a condition specific to individual sites. The reaction of nitrates with sulphide containing minerals is an auto-catalytic process that can, after some induction time, lead to a runaway exothermic decomposition even if the starting temperature of the mixture is at an ambient temperature. Typical nitrates used in the mining industry are ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate and sodium nitrate.

VoD (Velocity of detonation)

The velocity of detonation is an important indicator for overall energy or power of detonation, and in particular for the brisance or shattering effect of an explosive.


Impact sensitivity is one of the most important characteristics of energetic materials defining their safety in handling. Its determination is a necessary part of characterization of new explosives, modified formulations or manufacturing conditions, as well as defining influences of impurities or ageing.


Friction of explosives between hard surfaces is one of the most frequent causes of accidental explosions. Determination of friction sensitivity is thus a necessary part of characterization of new explosives, modified formulations or manufacturing conditions, as well as for defining influences of impurities or ageing.

Other services

  • 3D Printer
  • Design services
  • Explosives manufacture
  • Explosives testing
  • Spray drying
  • Surfactant evaluation
  • Prill analysis
  • Vertical drop analysis and design

AEL Innovations

Waterproof detcord

Renowned for introducing several new approaches to mining and explosives, AEL’s R&D team is credited with the development and introduction of many mine modernisation techniques that add value to mining customers throughout the world. AEL’s team offers cutting-edge research and development using the experience of the past to develop the innovation of today while brainstorming the products and technologies of the future.

AEL’s R&D team’s recent innovations that assist customers unearth wealth with meticulous care include:

Blast Initiation Timer (BIT)

The innovative, compact and lightweight Blast Initiation Timer (BIT) is an electronic initiator device designed for once off usage. It is activated by a removable pull tab which includes two stages - the first to perform testing, and the second to activate. The device has a fixed one hour timer. During the count down, the device is visible and audible to 30 meters. The device is undergoing SANS certification. Salient features of this product include a shelf life of at least 6 months and waterproof and dustproof packaging.

Waste Oil Explosives Formulation

  • AEL Recognised for Contribution to R&D in Industry
  • AEL Indonesia Goes Green using Waste Oil for Bulk Emulsion Explosives
  • AEL Launches New Generation E-20T Mobile Manufacturing Units

The Spray Drying of Pyrotechnic Powders - a World First

  • Blast Eye - Hot Hole Temperature Technologies
  • Robot assembly
  • ISAP

A Range of Novel Pumping Systems

AEL’s R&D team is currently working on a range of innovative pumping systems for explosives.

Water Resistant Detonating Cord

A new detonating fuse has been developed by AEL that not only combines the characteristics of high velocity detonation, energy output and flexibility, but also resists penetration by water.

Blast Initiator Timer

AEL is approaching the final stages of development of a safe and accurate, single use, disposable electronic timer designed specifically for the challenging conditions found in both the surface and underground mining environments. Capable of reliably initiating all electric detonators and initiators in the AEL stable, the device aims to replace all blast delaying systems employing pyrotechnic technologies with a beautifully crafted unit that is both simple to use and safe to operate. Feedback to the end user is provided by both sound and light signals coupled with a unique and failsafe control technology.

The ability to transport bulk explosives directly to deep level mine

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)
AEL Takes on AMD Problem with Eco-friendly Products

AEL Head Office

Head Office
Tel: +27 11 606 0000