This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

Advanced explosives and energetic materials

Materials with large amounts of stored or potential energy that can produce an explosion. Applications for advanced explosives and energetic materials include mining, civil engineering, manufacturing and defence.

Key sectors

  • Construction
  • Defence & Defence Industry
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining & Resources
  • Space
  • Transport & Logistics

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - Med
National Security - High

Key Australian Government action

Initiatives

  • Critical Minerals Facility – providing $2 billion of loans for critical mineral projects supporting the Critical Minerals Strategy
  • Critical Minerals Facilitation Office including 2019 Critical Minerals Strategy
  • US-Australia Critical Minerals Plan
  • Modern Manufacturing Strategy
  • Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise

Regulations

  • Defence and Strategic Goods List 2021
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Example outcomes

  • Development of innovative and improved raw material extraction methods
  • More efficient propellant for satellites (in terms of weight and energy)
  • Reduced risk of uncontrollable, unintended or accidental explosions
  • Decreased environmental impact during the use of advanced explosives and energetic materials
  • Decreased sustainment costs for military weapons

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification Category

  • Physical chemistry
  • Geochemistry
  • Chemical engineering
  • Resources engineering and extractive metallurgy
  • Classical physics

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • Military weapons
  • Shaped charges for controlled explosions, e.g. perforation of oil and gas wells
  • Solid rocket motors for space system launch
  • Propellant for satellite attitude control
  • Solid propellant fire extinguishers and airbag inflation systems
  • Solid propellant gas generators for emergency surfacing of ships
  • Explosives for drilling and blasting to break rock for excavation in mining, construction and demolition
  • Explosive rivets for aircraft manufacturing
  • Explosive bonding of metals such as titanium and steel
  • Fireworks
  • Marine distress flares
  • Decoy flares for defence assets
  • Pyrotechnics for bird control at airports

Readiness Level – 2-5 years

  • Low-impact emission rocket propellant for satellite launch
  • 3D printed explosives
  • High temperature explosives for hypersonic weapons

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Asteroid mining

Australia's place in the world

China has the highest research impact in this area and also has 6 institutions in the top 10 internationally, including the top 3. The United States is 2nd and Australia is ranked 13th. The United States has the highest venture capital (VC) investment ahead of the Republic of Korea, with Australia having the 5th highest amount of VC investment. Globally, the number of patents has been increasing at around 9% p.a. since 2015, with China having the greatest number of patents, more than double 2nd ranked United States; Australia is ranked 14th. Given the sensitive nature of this technology, much cutting-edge research is unlikely to be in the public domain, meaning this assessment may not be a true reflection of overall research capability.

China has considerable strength in research and patent filings in this area, well ahead of the United States and Australia. Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group leads national efforts in advanced explosives and energetic materials. Together with renewed focus on space exploration and with Government’s $1 billion investment into guided weapons and explosive ordnance, domestic capability in this area is anticipated to expand.

Opportunities and risk

Advanced explosives and energetic materials are essential for construction, mining and space technology. Without continued access to these technologies, Australia would be limited in its ability to continue infrastructure projects, resource mining, housing development and more. The recent establishment of the Australian Space Agency creates opportunities to build domestic capability in space launch technologies, for example propellants, which may have applications in other areas, such as transport and logistics. Advancements in explosives and energetic materials, have the potential to create more directed and controlled explosions, improving safety and efficiency in the mining and resources sector.

Explosive ordnances are considered critical enablers for Australia’s Defence Force. At present, Australia has $5.3 billion worth of explosive ordnance in inventory and imported over $160 million from the US in the last financial year. With this reliance on explosives and energetic resources for military purposes, Australia has the potential to obtain weapons security and export opportunities with domestic manufacturing and continued research in advanced materials. In recognition of this, the Commonwealth has been focusing on building sovereign capability in this sector.

Research and development in advanced explosives and energetic materials for weapons could be exploited by terrorists or criminal groups. However, export of these sensitive technologies are managed by measures, such as Defence Export Controls and the Defence Strategic Goods List, to ensure that risks of exploitation and misuse are reduced.

Research impact (RI)

China has the highest research impact in this area, ahead of the United States, with Australia ranked 13th. Total volume of published research has been increasing at 5% p.a. over the 5 year period 2016–2020, with 11% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. China - 10503
  2. USA - 7324
  3. Russian F. - 1865
  4. Germany - 1664
  5. India - 1482
  1. Australia - 422

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

The United States has the highest amount of venture capital (VC) investment, ahead of the Republic of Korea and China. Australia is ranked 5th for VC investment for advanced explosives and energetic materials. Globally investment in this area has been increasing at 15% p.a. since 2016.

  1. USA
  2. R. of Korea
  3. China
  4. Canada
  5. Australia

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

The number of patents filed in this field has increased by 9% annually from 2015 to 2019. Most patents in this field were filed by applicants or inventors from China, ahead of the United States and the Russian Federation; Australia ranks 14th.

  1. China - 4965
  2. USA - 1835
  3. Russian F. - 947
  4. R. of Korea - 678
  5. Taiwan - 419
  1. Australia - 35

Research institutions - international

China has 6 institutes in the top 10 international institutions, including the top 3 institutions. The United States, Germany and the Russian Federation make up the remaining institutes in the top 10 international institutions.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 China Academy of Engineering Physics | China 2050
2 Beijing Institute of Technology | China 1960
3 Nanjing University of Science and Technology | China 1813
4 University of Idaho | United States 1287
5 Xi'an Modern Chemistry Research Institute | China 1125
6 Naval Research Laboratory | United States 1014
7 Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich | Germany 703
8 Russian Academy of Sciences | Russian Federation 691
9 Southwest University of Science and Technology | China 594
10 Harbin Institute of Technology | China 583

Research institutions - Australia

Within Australia, the University of Melbourne has the highest research impact. No Australian institution is in the top 50 international institutions.

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 University of Melbourne 98
2 Monash University 48
3 Defence Science & Technology Group 44
4 Deakin University 39
5 Flinders University 29
6 Griffith University 25
7 University of South Australia 23
8 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University 23
9 Curtin University 17
10 Edith Cowan University

7

Patents - Australia

Top 5 Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific 4
Bhattacharya, Utpal 2
CMTE Development 2
Commonwealth of Australia 2
Defendtex 2

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.