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Canadian Explosives Research Laboratory

The Canadian Explosives Research Laboratory (CanmetCERL) is the only Canadian government laboratory — and one of few in the world — that offers explosives testing, analysis, certification, and research related to explosives and their components. Our clients include national and international public and private partners. CanmetCERL is accredited under ISO/IEC17025:2017 and features state-of-the-art capabilities.

Testing and analysis services

We offer tests and analyses (hazard testing, performance testing, chemical analysis and more) for three main purposes:

  • Authorizing or certifying components and products to ensure their safe and effective use as they go to market
  • Ensuring that processes pertaining to explosives and other unstable substances (manufacture, transport, use, etc.) are safe and effective
  • Mitigating the risk of intentional threats to the public

Explosives authorization and certification

Are you a manufacturer, transporter, seller or operator who wants their explosive product or component to appear on Canada’s authorized products list? Or do you need to have it certified for product trials under the Explosives Act and Explosives Regulations? We support Canada’s Chief Inspector of Explosives and the NRCan Explosives Regulatory Division in making such assessments.

We test a wide range of products, including blasting/industrial explosives and accessories, ballistics and sport ammunition, pyrotechnics propellants (i.e., fireworks), model rocket motors, toy pistol caps and automobile components. These tests ensure that only safe products make it to market, and that innovation and safety go hand in hand as new products are developed.

You can learn more about product authorization here.

Safety and process hazards

Are the explosive products you handle and the processes you use to manufacture, transport, acquire, store, sell or operate them safe?

We conduct testing to analyze blast potential and conduct risk assessments — including quantified risk assessments (QRA) — and hazards characterizations to ensure that explosives are handled and stored safely from manufacture through to initiation by the end user. We also work with government departments (e.g., Transport Canada) to ensure that explosives-related policies are sound.

Examples of our work
  • Testing hundreds of fireworks mortars and rating their safety based on fragmentation and throw distance
  • Evaluating mortar racks to assess their safety in the event of a violent in-mortar explosion
  • Analyzing the process within a perforating gun shop to determine the hazards associated with their loading and storage areas
  • Designing and prototyping fireworks mortars
Process hazards
  • Evaluating risks of runaway reactions during manufacture of metal alloys for the aeronautics industry
  • Analyzing the compatibility of ammonium nitrate with various plant chemicals
  • Quantifying the risks of producing a detonation following localized ignitions in the propellant industry
  • Evaluating the explosion risk of explosives pumps in the mining industry

Security and emerging threats

New explosive or pyrotechnic compositions — including those used for homemade explosives (HMEs) — pose potential threats to public safety. We are part of an international effort to examine the chemical and physical properties, improve our identification and detection capabilities, and inhibit the unlawful use of these compositions. We also work to understand the potential effects of explosives used to cause intentional harm to the public or public infrastructure.

We conduct precursor chemical testing to evaluate the hazards, properties and feasibility of HME manufacture and the potential uses of these materials. This information is used to support the development of relevant, science-based regulation, as well as to help law enforcement personnel with their efforts to keep Canadians safe.

We also focus on the effects of explosives by evaluating risks of intentional threats to the integrity of the Government of Canada’s critical infrastructure in Canada and abroad (bridges, dams, embassies, etc.), and by assessing the biomechanics of blast injury (e.g., risks to the public from an attack, risks of injury to law enforcement personnel during tactical exercises). The results of our work also inform and improve the design of infrastructure and personal protective equipment as well as the approaches/equipment used by trauma response teams.

Examples of our work

We conduct small-scale testing at the lab in Ottawa and occasionally perform large-scale tests using military ranges at CFB Petawawa (Ontario) and CFB Suffield (Alberta). Our world-class technology also includes shock tube testing (compressed air to simulate a blast wave) and numerical software tools (i.e., computer modeling and analytics for explosions that cannot be conducted in real life).

Interaction of blast waves with structures and the human body
  • Studying the blast response of hardened structures and glazing
  • Evaluating the risks of overpressure exposure to law enforcement personnel during tactical explosive operations
  • Assessing critical energy infrastructure (pipelines, nuclear power facilities, electrical generation and distribution facilities such as dams) to evaluate their vulnerabilities against explosive loads
Equipment for handling explosives safely
  • Developing containers for the RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit
  • Developing and conducting tests to evaluate the performance of bomb suits, helmets and other accessories
  • Designing and installing robot-controlled processes for energetic materials

Collaborate with us

Do you have a request that doesn’t fit the services described above? Whether you’re in private industry, academia or another government department, get in touch to discuss your research requirements if they pertain to explosives processes, capabilities and effects.

We can share costs, collaborate with other labs, and provide advice, opinions and access to our facilities. We’re proud of our department’s capabilities and enjoy working with varied international companies as well as supporting doctoral candidates in their work.

ISO accreditation

Accreditation symbol for the Standards Council of Canada

CanmetCERL is an internationally recognized testing laboratory that is accredited by the Standards Council of Canada. It affirms that our scope of accreditation conforms to the ISO/IEC 17025:2017 general requirements for the competence of calibration and testing laboratories. A number of national and international partners accept our test work as the basis for authorizing explosives and hazardous locations products.

We have explosives testing capabilities in five areas:

Explosives-related testing
  • One indoor blast tank, capable of shooting charges of up to 5 kg TNT equivalent
  • Two outdoor blast tanks, capable of shooting charges of up to 2 kg TNT equivalent
  • Field site for UN Series 4 and 6 testing and fireworks testing
  • Access to Department of National Defence (DND) facilities for large-scale outdoor testing
  • Measurement of shockwaves in the air (small- and large-scale)
  • Laboratory-scale manufacturing of explosives for testing and research purposes
  • Determination of explosives properties for the purposes of hazard assessments and classification (e.g., UN Manual of Tests and Criteria)
  • Ballistic impact testing
  • High-speed data acquisition of explosive events
Analytical chemistry laboratory
  • Equipment for physical characterization of samples (laser diffraction particle size analyzer, helium pycnometer)
  • Light microscope/stereomicroscope with digital image acquisition and software analysis
  • Scanning electron microscope with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometer
  • Chemically suppressed ion chromatography with–mass spectrometry (IC-MS)
  • High performance liquid chromatograph
  • Wavelength-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometer
  • Inductively coupled plasma - optical emission
  • Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer with diamond ATR accessory
  • Karl Fischer volumetric titrator for determining moisture contents
  • Automated titration equipment
Small-scale testing
  • BAM, U.S. Bureau of Explosives and Type 12 impact apparatus
  • BAM and ABL friction apparatus
  • Bichel gauge for explosive fume testing
  • Electrostatic discharge sensitivity apparatus
  • Koenen test
  • UN time-pressure test
  • Oxidizer/flammable solid/self-reactive solid testing
  • Minimum burning pressure (MBP) apparatus
  • High-pressure vessels for combustion testing
  • Detonator testing facility
  • Environmental chambers for temperature and humidity cycling
  • Ammunition testing
Thermal characterization
  • Accelerating rate calorimeters (ARC)
  • Adiabatic Dewar calorimeter
  • Differential scanning calorimeter (DSC)
  • Thermogravimetric analysis (TG)
  • Simultaneous TG-DSC with gas analysis by mass spectrometry (MS) and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometry
  • Tian Calvet heat flux calorimeter capable of operation up to 35 MPa
  • Microcalorimeter
  • Thermal conductivity analyzer
  • Explosion proof differential thermal analyzer (DTA)
Human vulnerability to blast
  • Biomechanics of blast injury
  • Evaluating response of anthropomorphic test devices (ATD) to air blast (full-scale explosive tests and blast simulation in shock tube)
  • Numerical modeling of the body’s response to blast
  • Testing of bomb suits and helmets
  • Assessment of risks associated to explosive tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP)

Standards development

We play an active role in national and international standards organizations, including:

Research and published work

Over a 10-year period, we’ve contributed to more than 50 papers and conference proceedings covering the following topics for energetic materials: thermal hazard assessment, combustion, detonation, blast effects, characterization of pyrotechnics, security, standards and instrumentation/test development.

Featured paper

Minimum burning pressures of water-based emulsion explosives

Pumping water-based emulsion explosives for blasting applications can be very hazardous. Over 10 years, we developed a protocol for measuring the minimum pressure required for the sustained burning of water-based emulsion explosives. Use it as a guide to characterize the behaviour of these products in your pumping systems.

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