Surface Percolation for Soil Improvement by Biocementation Utilizing In Situ Enriched Indigenous Aerobic and Anaerobic Ureolytic Soil Microorganisms
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The use of biocementation via microbially induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) for improving the mechanical properties of weak soils in the laboratory has gained increased attention in recent years. This study proposes an approach for applying biocementation in situ, by combining the surface percolation of nutrients and cementation solution (urea/CaCl2) with in situ cultivation of indigenous soil urease positive microorganisms under non-sterile conditions. The enrichment of indigenous ureolytic soil bacteria was firstly tested in batch reactors. Using selective conditions (i.e., pH of 10 and urea concentrations of 0.17 M), highly active ureolytic microorganisms were enriched from four diverse soil samples under both oxygen-limited (anoxic) and oxygen-free (strictly anaerobic) conditions, providing final urease activities of more than 10 and 5 U/mL, respectively. The enrichment of indigenous ureolytic soil microorganisms was secondly tested in pure silica sand columns (300 and 1000 mm) for biocementation applications using the surface percolation approach. By applying the same selective conditions, the indigenous ureolytic soil microorganisms with high urease activity were also successfully enriched for both the fine and coarse sand columns. However, the in situ enriched urease activity was highly related to the dissolved oxygen of the percolated growth medium. The results showed that the in situ cultivated urease activity may produce non-clogging cementation over the entire 1000-mm columns, with unconfined compressive strength varying between 850–1560 kPa (for coarse sand) and 150–700 kPa (for fine sand), after 10 subsequent applications of cementation solution. The typically observed loss of ureolytic activity during the repeated application of the cementation solution was recovered by providing more growth medium under selective enrichment conditions, enabling the in situ enriched ureolytic microorganisms to increase in numbers and urease activity in such a way that continued cementation was possible.
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