BAM Nuttall and Strathclyde Uni study how bacteria can solidify soil to replace concrete
Professor Rebecca Lunn MBE of the University of Strathclyde has extended her well-established partnership with BAM Nuttall by taking up the five-year post of BAM Nuttall / RAEng Research Chair in Biomineral Technologies for Ground Engineering.
Professor Lunn will examine and scale up microbially induced calcite precipitation (MICP), researching how to use bacteria to solidify soil to reduce the use of cement in construction, thus unlocking low-carbon alternatives for the industry.
The MICP process uses naturally-occurring bacteria and urea solutions injected into soil to changes its properties, making the soil stronger and more stable. The bacteria precipitate calcite, a hard mineral that binds together particles in the soil, turning loose soil into an instant rock. This technology can be used to build and repair infrastructure, minimising carbon-intensive use of cement.
“We want to develop sustainable earth infrastructure that harness the biomineral technology to improve the properties of the existing soil; providing a durable, non-destructive alternative to traditional carbon-intensive construction methods,” says Professor Lunn. “Having collaborated with BAM Nuttall over a number of years, we share a common understanding of how to turn early-stage research into innovative construction techniques. BAM’s knowledge and experience in the infrastructure sector will allow this technology to gain early acceptance and broaden the range of applications quickly.”
Globally, a few small-scale field trails and industrial applications of the technique have been completed, however none have been conducted in the UK to-date.
“We’re absolutely delighted that Professor Lunn will be taking up the BAM Nuttall / RAEng Research Chair,” adds BAM Nuttall Director, Alasdair Henderson. “Construction has a mixed record in research and development, something that BAM has worked hard to change over recent years. We know that successfully implementing innovations like MICP leads directly to improved productivity, lower carbon demand and greater economic growth, with a beneficial effect across society.”
The research will build on Professor Lunn’s previous work applying MICP to seal rock fractures during the construction of geological disposal facilities for nuclear waste. Her group has successfully developed the technology for sealing individual fractures within the laboratory at the 1-2 metre scale. In partnership with BAM Nuttall, the Research Chair position will allow progression from these laboratory tests to field trials for rock fracture sealing.