Core competence »explosives technology«

“Explosives technology” is the longest-established core competence of Fraunhofer ICT. Based on decades of experience, we are the only German research institute that covers the entire development chain from the raw product to the prototype in the development of propellants and explosives. The Institute supports the German Federal Ministry of Defence, the public sector and industrial customers in investigating current challenges concerning national and international security.

Synthesis of energetic materials
© Fraunhofer ICT | Mona Rothweiler
Synthesis of energetic materials

The institute draws on the competence of its employees in the research and development of improved energetic materials and systems for the German army, and thus helps to ensure the strong analysis and decision-making capability of the German Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg). In addition, current issues in the thematic fields of defence and security are addressed. Research is focused on the development, synthesis, characterization, formulation and production techniques of components for rocket propellants, gun propellants, high explosives, pyrotechnics and new ignition and initiation systems. Fraunhofer ICT is the only German research institution to cover the entire development chain from the raw product through to the system prototype. Further topics in its portfolio include safety and security systems based on gas generators, flame retardant coatings, filter materials and pyrotechnic flares with spectral emissions that spectrally resolving seekers cannot distinguish from those of real engines.

In the development of propellant and explosive systems, performance, sensitivity, handling safety, functionality and environmental compatibility are adjusted and optimized for individual application profiles and requirements. To this end, components are synthesized and modified in Fraunhofer ICT's laboratories, new binder systems and formulations are developed and the energetic products are fabricated in the institute's pilot plants. The research groups for interior ballistics, detonics, rocket propellants and pyrotechnics then characterize the reaction behavior, sensitivity and performance data of the energetic materials in the laboratory, detonation chamber or on open-air testing ranges, up to the kilogram scale. In addition, modern simulation software is available, which can be used to analyze and evaluate the performance and safety of new energetic materials all the way to the system. Current research topics include environmentally-friendly, low-signature high-performance rocket propellants for military and civil applications, nitrocellulosefree gun propellants, insensitive high-performance explosives, gel propellants for rockets enabling controllable thrust phases, sensors in rocket engines that enable non-destructive monitoring of the aging of the propellant, and investigations into the compatibility and stability of energetic substances as well as the prediction of their aging behavior.

A further competence is the detection of explosives even in trace amounts using special sensor concepts, for example on the basis of molecular adsorbers. At Fraunhofer ICT, so-called ”home made” explosives are fabricated, evaluated with regard to their handling properties and detectability, and made available to the security authorities for testing purposes. Activities extend to the development of concepts to detect illegal explosives laboratories, the design of civil or military security areas and checkpoints, and the standardized evaluation of detection systems on an international level, such as those used for security checks at airports. The development of protection systems against terrorist actions is the focus of complementary activities.

Exhaust gas jet of ADN fuels
© Fraunhofer ICT
Exhaust gas jet of ADN fuels

Networks and alliances

In the field of defence and security research, Fraunhofer ICT is a member of the Fraunhofer Group for Defense and Security (VVS), in which seven Fraunhofer institutes and three guest institutes have pooled their competences and work together to coordinate and implement research activities. Fraunhofer ICT is also a member of the Fraunhofer Space Alliance - an association of 15 Fraunhofer institutes that conduct applied research in the field of space technology.

With its competence in explosives, the institute is also actively involved in numerous national and international projects (BMVg, EDA, NATO, EU, BMBF, BMI, BMWi). It also works with the BMVg in the context of bilateral research agreements. Operating as Test Center for Explosives Detection Systems on behalf of the German Federal Police, the institute contributes its know-how to international committees aiming to improve aviation security.

Research and technology

We offer research in all areas of explosives technology for the German Federal Ministry of Defence and other public authorities, the defence and security industry, and the automotive and aerospace sectors. We focus on the development, design and evaluation of energetic materials and systems, drawing on our chemical and physical know-how and safety facilities and equipment. We develop tailor-made process technologies for the safe manufacture of explosive components, support the search for REACh-compliant substances and provide demonstrators to test new energetic products.

Software-assisted analysis and design tools, developed and used at ICT, enable the screening of new propellant and explosive formulations, for example based on their performance, safety, erosivity and environmental compatibility. In the case of gun propellants and ballistics, this also includes the consideration of system aspects of weapons and ammunition. We are also able to provide support and evaluation in all development steps of pyrotechnic gas generators for safety equipment (e.g. airbags) according to application and customer requirements. In our test center for explosive detection systems, we offer the manufacturers of airport scanners and detection devices the opportunity to carry out tests with real explosives and reference substances, in order to evaluate and optimize their systems. Furthermore, in cooperation with the German Federal Police, the institute tests and certifies such systems for use in European airports.

Facilities and equipment

PILOT PLANTS AND TEST STANDS

  • Chemical pilot plants and synthesis laboratories for explosives
  • Pilot plants for the manufacture and processing of explosive products
  • Safety boxes and testing site for explosion and safety/ security investigations
  • Test Center for Explosives Detection
  • Detonation chamber (up to 2 kg TNT)
  • Detonation tank (up to 100g TNT)
  • Test gun systems for 5.56 mm to 12.7 mm and 20 mm
  • 100 m shooting range
  • Test stand for rocket engines and flares
  • Flow test stand for investigation of pyrotechnic systems

EQUIPMENT

  • Pilot plants for the production of explosive particles
  • Flow chemistry processes and synthesis units
  • Fluidized-bed coater
  • Spray crystallization unit
  • High-pressure plant for isostatic compression molding
  • Special kneaders, mixers, pelletizers and presses with explosion protection

SOFTWARE TOOLS

  • Thermochemical codes for the thermodynamic evaluation of gun and rocket propellants, high explosives and pyrotechnics, e.g. ICT Thermodynamic Code, EKVI code, Cheetah 2.0., EXPLO5
  • ICT thermodynamics database with over 14,000 substances
  • Computational fluid dynamic (CFD) codes, such as SPEED, Ansys Fluent, Ansys Autodyn, Ansys Mechanical
  • Interior ballistic codes e.g. SimIB-0D, FNGun-1D, ballistic analysis and evaluation tool BAA (ICT), software tool to simulate the combustion behavior of arbitrary shaped gun propellants (ICT), software tool for 3D form function for arbitrary shaped propellants (ICT)
  • ICT-BAM for spectroscopic temperature measurement

ANALYTICAL EQUIPMENT AND LABORATORIES

  • Atomic force microscope, field emission scanning electron microscope (FESEM) with variable pressure and energydispersive X-ray and elemental analytics (EDX)
  • Micro- and nano-computed tomography scanners
  • Thermoanalytical laboratory, micro- and reaction calorimeter, test stands for aging behavior
  • Laboratory for mechanical testing and rheology
  • Laboratory for X-ray diffractometry
  • Laboratory for chromatographic and spectroscopic analysis (IR and RAMAN microscopy)
  • Online spectroscopy (UV/VIS/NIR/RAMAN)
  • High-speed camera and spectrometer systems
  • Ballistic bombs for all gun propellant types including burn rate measurement software
  • Optical and Crawford bomb for solid rocket propellants
  • Blast measurement technology, QSP and temperature for detonation chamber and detonation tank
  • Manganin pressure probes for measurements up to 400 kbar
  • 4-channel photonic doppler velocimeter for transient velocity measurement up to 5 km/s
  • Detonation velocity measurement
  • Various safety test setups, e.g. Koenen test, 21 mm and 50 mm GAP test