Gateway for:

Member Countries

Tagging of Commercial Explosives


Tagging of Commercial Explosives

Tech Area / Field

  • MAT-EXP/Explosives/Materials

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Russian Academy of Sciences / Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics, Russia, Moscow

Supporting institutes

  • TsNIIKhM (Chemistry and Mechanics), Russia, Moscow\nFederal Center of Dual Technologies "Soyuz", Russia, Moscow reg., Dzerzhinsky


  • Universidad Politecnica de Madrid / Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales, Spain, Madrid\nUnion Espanola de Explosivos S.A., Spain, Madrid

Project summary

The main purpose of the coding of explosives is to prevent their unlawful proliferation and use. There are numerous examples of unlawful use of explosives—from acts of vandalism (unmotivated destruction of mailboxes, telephone booths, etc.) to the use for commercial purposes of substandard explosives. The statistical data show that, although the share of terrorist acts is relatively low among all incidents with explosives, the loss of human life and material damages they may entail are enormous. At the present time, we witness a sharp increase in terrorist activity in various regions of the Globe. To effectively combat this danger, all possible measures, both inside inpidual countries and internationally, should be undertaken. The introduction of a taggant into explosives is an efficient means facilitating the clearance of crimes involving explosives, as confirmed by the experience of Switzerland, where the coding of explosives with colored plastic particles was enacted in 1980. The percentage of clearance of crimes involving explosives was 44% for tagged and only 16% for untagged explosives.

There are several methods of tagging: the introduction in the explosive of various particles (plastic, ceramic, or glass of various colors), isotope labels, or biochemical labels. All these methods, however, do not fully meet the necessary requirements. They prove either commercially too expensive, insufficiently informative, or unreliable for determining the taggant in the explosion products. Thus, the problem of development new tagging methods remains urgent.

In the course of execution of project No. 1292 (ISTC), we proposed the method of chemical tagging of explosives with the help of the taggant, whose information capacity is determined by its chemical composition (the rear-earth and scattered elements). A code is recorded in the form of relative element content in the powder of aluminum alloy. For decoding, the application of the highly-sensitive laser-spark rapid analyzer of the elemental composition was proposed. The studies carried out showed that the taggants proposed can reliably be identified both in the parent explosives and in the explosion products. Simple estimation of the expenditure of rare-earth metals gives approximately 1 kg per 1 ton of explosive materials. For the world production of commercial explosives constituting several millions ton per year, thousands tons of rare-earth metals will be required for the tagging. This is the unacceptable quantity, compared with the world production of the rare-earth metals. At the same time, the tagging of explosives is rationally to use only when the entire quantity of industrially produced explosives will be tagged. Consequently, the method is necessary to improve.

The objective of this Project is to develop methods for tagging industrially produced explosives. The project No. 1292 was concerned with the chemical tagging of high explosives (TNT, hexogen, octogen, and nitroglycerine). The remains of the parent high explosive cannot practically be detected after their explosion. On explosion of commercial explosives, almost without exception one can find the unreacted remains of the parent explosive. The spectral analysis of these remains will make it possible to carry out the decoding. Just several tenths fractions of gram of the parent explosive are enough to conduct the decoding with the use of the laser spark analyzer. After particular modernization of the equipment used for analysis, its sensitivity can be as high as 1—10 ppm. Thus, the amount of taggant introduced into commercial explosive can be essentially (by two orders of magnitude) reduced as compared with the concentrations proposed for the tagging of high explosives. The preliminary evaluations show that in this case the expenditure of taggant per ton of explosives will be approximately 10-50 g (i.e. the expenditure will be 100 - 500 tons of rare-earth metals for tagging of the entire world production of explosives). This is already an acceptable value. The cost of tagging of one ton of explosive will comprise approximately $10. In this case for tagging of the industrial explosives is not necessary to use only the rare-earth elements. It is possible to use more available and cheaper materials (for example, beryllium, cadmium and other). It is necessary only to take into account their possible presence in the composition of the industrial explosives as the technological additives or the pollutions. Additionally, the use of heavy metals for tagging make perspective to solve simultaneously the problem of explosives detection on customs, on goods and passenger terminals, in vehicles, and so on with the use of neutron-activation analysis.

To achieve delivered aim we plan to perform next work:

  1. To develop the method of taggant introduction into commercial explosives. It is necessary to achieve an exact dosage and uniformity of the distribution of microamounts of taggant throughout the bulk of commercial explosive, executing property control of the explosives after the introduction of taggants in their composition (such as stability, sensitivity, and some others).
  2. To increase sensitivity of the laser-spark analyzer of elemental composition. The ways to solve this problem are known. First it is necessary to replace the monochromator, which affiliate existing equipment, by the spectrometer. This make it possible to measure the spectral lines of all tagging elements in one experiment within a wide frequency range. Here it is necessary to develop a new version of the software, providing operation and spectrum analysis with spectrometer. Second, it is necessary to design, manufacture and test of the vacuum measuring chamber. This make it possible to eliminate the noises related to radiation of the molecular component. An important element of this work is further development of the decoding methods with the help of the laser-spark analyzer of elemental composition
  3. To solve the problem, it is necessary to study a large number of rear-earth, scattered and other elements to check the possibility of their use as the taggant. The explosion experiments will be carried out to develop the methods of detection of the taggants in the explosion products. For these purposes, the experimental facilities will be used that were designed in the course of execution of the previous project. The new installations will be designed that can emulate the conditions of the in-field explosions.

Within the framework of the project, it is planned to restrict ourselves by the design-theoretical analysis of the prospective and efficiency of neutron-activation analysis for explosives detection. This work can be completed for one year. If positive and reliable results will be obtained, the development of this method can be carried out either within the framework of this project if corresponding financial support will be available or as a separate project.

The project will be implemented by a team of 30 members of the team, 26 coworkers are scientists formerly involved in the development of weaponry. Most of them are experts in development and testing explosions and propellants. Some of the scientists are leading specialists in optical and laser spectroscopy, the combustion and detonation theory, and high-temperature physicochemical processes. Six doctors of and 16 candidates of science are engaged in the project. The members of the team are highly qualified experts capable of solving complex scientific problems.

This project will be realized by number of scientists and engineers that were formerly engaged in studies related to the synthesis of explosives, the testing of their physicochemical properties, and development of the corresponding weaponry. For analyzing of possibilities of neutron-activation analysis for explosives detection the specialists in nuclear physics will be recruited. The experience accumulated in the course of implementation of such studies will be applied for solving the problems within the framework of the project. The aim of the project is to facilitate the development of a system of measures for preventing proliferation and unlawful use of explosives. The tagging of explosives aimed at solving the actual problem defending peaceful citizens from terrorist attacks.

The project will be perform in the close interaction with our foreign collaborators/partners, Union Espanola de Explosives (UEE) and Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingeneros de Minas.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

Promotional Material

Значимы проект

See ISTC's new Promotional video view