Defence researchers tackle environmental impact of explosives

Defence researchers tackle environmental impact of explosives Defence researchers tackle environmental impact of explosives

From green chemistry to cleaner explosives, professional education and research being delivered at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom is supporting defence to meet the challenges of climate change.


“Becoming sustainable isn’t about preventing progress or telling people they can’t operate in a certain environment,” said Dr Melissa Ladyman (pictured), Environmental Chemistry Lecturer at Cranfield University, an academic partner of the Defence Academy.

“It’s about understanding the science, and enabling people to embed through-life sustainable practices across defence projects.”

Sustainable operations

These training and research programmes are improving awareness of the impact of climate change on operational capability. This includes equipping defence managers with the tools to integrate an environmentally holistic approach to long-term projects, starting with sustainable procurement and continuing through operations to safe decommissioning.

Dr Ladyman explained: “Uniforms, munitions, tanks, nuclear submarines – everything has to have a disposal plan and project managers must be able to account for potential future environmental challenges from the outset. That’s why our training looks at the whole picture.

“We’re communicating that we can make things sustainable, and that this brings real financial and reputational benefits for defence.”

Explosives research

The university’s researchers are also exploring how future technologies impact defence sustainability through experimentation on existing munitions and new generation explosives. One MSc student is working on improving the manufacturing process of CL20, a highly energetic explosive used in munitions and propellants.

“Chemistry is one of the less environmentally friendly industries, but ‘green chemistry’ has developed over the past thirty years,” said Dr Jeff Pons, Senior Research Fellow in organic synthesis. “We’re interested in how we can reduce environmental impact and waste through energy usage, reuse of materials and streamlining the manufacturing process to make it more efficient.”

In other research, some PhD students at the Defence Academy are conducting controlled lab experiments to measure the impact of explosives on environmental ‘receptors’ – soil, air and water.

Dr Tracey Temple, Senior Lecturer in environmental science, explained: “Students are learning how emissions disperse and contaminate the air, how to clean contaminated water, and how to measure accelerated ageing, to see what materials break down into.

“We’re giving them that understanding of the science and cutting-edge research to go into the world as intelligent customers and practitioners.”

Through publishing their research, Defence Academy students are contributing to the global conversation around sustainable defence practices. Dr Temple and her colleagues have collaborated with NATO on a guide for range managers, attended international speaking engagements, and were recently contracted to work with the US Environmental Protection Agency.


Major General Andrew Roe, Chief Executive and Commandant of the Defence Academy, said: “In its Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach, the Ministry of Defence has set out its multi-faceted response to climate change, which includes exploiting data and research, and harnessing emerging and novel technologies.

“The education and research being undertaken at the Defence Academy is making an important contribution towards achieving the goal of a ‘climate-prepared' defence and supporting the UK government’s wider commitment of net zero emissions by 2050.”


Photos: Cranfield University