A look at the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory, Pune.

The operational needs of the military demand special materials for specific purposes. The development of materials fit for demanding applications often poses serious challenges.

The development of heat-resistant explosives for warheads of high-speed missiles and insensitive high explosives for low-vulnerability munitions is a typical challenge in Defence research. Safety, stability and reliability are aspects of concern. Insensitive munitions will only burn, rather than explode, when heated.

The design of insensitive munitions may bank on different styles. External protection, high level of stability and provision for pressure relief through venting in the casing are three possible choices.

Studies on nanomaterials and solid state reactions and energy changes are fascinating phases in materials investigation. Materials research of this kind with military orientation is being carried out in the HEMRL: High Energy Materials Research Laboratory, Sutarwadi, Pune – 411 021

The laboratory was born as the Chemical Examiner’s Office at Nainital in 1908. It was renamed the Explosives Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) and moved to Pashan in Pune in 1960. Its name was further changed to High Energy Materials Research Laboratory in 1995.

The name of the laboratory tells us its focus of research. Sometimes, it undertakes research for civilian applications.

Main areas of work

The laboratory handles basic and applied research in all areas of high-energy materials. The studies include the formulation, design and development of propellants, high explosives, pyrotechnics, polymeric materials, liners and insulators. (In military terms, pyrotechnics stands for ammunition containing chemicals for producing smoke or light, as for signalling, illuminating or screening.)

A significant area of work is the synthesis of new compounds of importance in the field of high-energy materials. Formulation of new materials may require studies on their physico

chemical and combustion characteristics. Detonation phenomena and development of related systems are topics of studies. Pilot plants for the synthesis of high-energy materials and related non-explosive chemicals needed by Defence organisations are being designed and developed. The laboratory undertakes studies on solid rocket propellants as well. The fruits of research are promptly transferred to the appropriate agencies for effective application.

The HEMRL is the only laboratory in India to conduct research and development in the entire range of high-energy materials — gun and rocket propellants, high explosives, pyrotechnics and so on.

The facilities for scientific testing include a wide variety of modern measuring and analytical instruments. Studies can be made on explosive, propellant and pyrotechnic phenomena.

Some of the typical activities are indicated below:

Determination of mechanical properties of propellants and polymers.

Measurement of flame intensity in visible and infrared regions.

Measurement of flame temperature.

Non-destructive testing.

Pilot plant for high-energy materials and allied chemicals.

Rocket testing in static conditions.

Study of detonation phenomenon.

Synthesizing high energy materials.

The HEMRL set up a state-of-the-art composite propellant processing facility for the Defence Research and Development Organisation, ACEM (Advanced Centre for Energetic Materials), in Nasik in 2011. The centre has been conceived as a dedicated facility to meet the requirements of composite propellants for solid rocket motors during their development phase and during the limited series production. This is expected to develop world-class rocket motors for various strategic projects. It is geared to grow as one of the best facilities in the field of energetic materials in the world. Research under this facility will help in bridging the gap between the strategic capability in India and advanced countries. The process of indigenisation in Defence manufacture will be accelerated using the gifts from this new facility as well.

A significant aspect of ACEM is that it has equipment and machinery operated remotely through Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), thereby avoiding human exposure to hazardous processes.

Civilian applications

Air-regenerating composition: This is for maintaining breathable air within a closed space. It regenerates air inside a confined space by liberating oxygen and simultaneously absorbing carbon dioxide. Useful in civil applications such as rescue work in mines and fire, smoke and toxic environments; chemical plant operation; mountaineering expeditions; complete air regeneration inside a spacecraft; and under-sea exploration.

Chemical kit for detection of explosives: A compact, low-cost and handy explosive detection kit has been designed and perfected for field detection of traces of explosives. The simple test recipe yields a colour reaction, based on which explosives can be detected in minutes. It can be used for identification of all common military, civil and home-made explosive compositions. It is being used by the police and the Border Security Force.


Know your groundDecember 10, 2012