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Chemical Improvement of Clay Soils in situ

Using Electrokinetic Processes

Researcher: Christina Liaki

Supervisor: Professor CDF Rogers, Dr DI Boardman
Sponsors: The University of Birmingham and Foundation Piling Ltd

Introduction and Problem Statement

Research has come up with many stabilising mechanisms both to strengthen the soil and to
remove its sensitivity to water. Chemical stabilisation of clay soils is traditionally carried out
using mix-in-place processes.In the case of lime and cement stabilisation of clay, these
processes have

been widely researched as surface and deep soil treatment

techniques (Figure 1).
For certain practical situations, such as house foundations on
expansive soil, mixing is not possible. Current research has
shown that chemical treatment using a potential difference to
transport chemical ions between bespoke electrodes can
overcome such problems, whilst achieving the desired results.
However, a major problem this technique has to overcome is
metallic electrode corrosion, because this can cause ions
detrimental to the reaction process to be introduced into the
clay-water-stabiliser system. Figure 1: Deep clay-reagent mixing (After
This study aims to explore the science, and thereby 'prove the Bachy Environmental advertisement
video of ICI Explosives site remediation
concept' and establish the practical possibilities, of recreating project, 1995)
the classical chemical modification and stabilisation reactions
in situ using such a technique, while overcoming any problems caused by electrode

Aims and Objectives

The ultimate target of this research study is to create volume stability and/or strength gain in
clay soils in situ using electrokinetic processes. In order to achieve this, it has been decided

 Evaluate the behaviour of various clay-stabilising ion systems when subjected to

electric current.
 Determine how much the process improves the properties of the clay in both a
chemical and a geotechnical sense.
 Determine the time-dependent nature of this improvement.
 Examine the associated changes in water content.
 Explore the effects of using different electrode types.
 Attempt to create a block of stabilised clay mid-way between the electrodes.

Electrokinetic Stabilisation
Electrokinetic stabilisation is essentially a combination of the processes of electroosmosis and
chemical grouting. The electrokinetic processes reportedly cause a decrease in the water
content and an acceleration of consolidation of the clay, an increase in the plastic limit, an
increase in the shear strength of the clay and formation of insoluble salts in the clay.
Along with the main effects of the electrokinetic method, there are some others which
significantly affect the stabilisation procedure. These include the electrolysis of the water
molecules and the reduction and oxidation reactions occurring at the electrodes. The
electrolysis results in the formation of an acid front around the anode and a base front around
the cathode. The oxidation of the anode also causes release of Fe3+ ions from steel
electrodes, which, due to the applied electric current, travel towards the cathode. These ions
react with the clay minerals and cause weakening of the soil.
Case Study
A research programme was performed to assess the reasons why settlement, indicated by
cracks, had occurred underneath a garage structure on a site in Bath and the possibilities of
performing a field trial. A trial pit was excavated, wherefrom samples were extracted. Testing
was conducted to explore how the soil-water system would behave when mixed with Fe3+
ions released into the system due to the anode corrosion occurring. The results clearly
showed that the Fe3+ ions weaken the soil.

The main experimental programme involved the application of electrokinetic injection to soil
samples extracted from the site. A representative model of the site (Figure 2) was created
and it was attempted to change its water regime. Two hollow, perforated mild steel tubes
were used as electrodes. Initially, it was decided to conduct the electrokinetic tests by
providing the anode with water (Water Electric Current Test). A second type of experiment
was then carried out in which the two electrodes were fed with appropriate chemical solutions
that could potentially cause stabilisation of the soil sample (Chemical Electric Current Test). A
constant direct current of a value of 5 Volts was used for all experiments, based on previous
work done by Rogers et al (2002).

Figure 2: Experimental apparatus used for the case study

It has been demonstrated from this stage of the research that the application of electric
current between two electrodes causes movement of the pore water in the soil from the
anode to the cathode, as expected, and that this causes a related change in the shear
strength of the clay. It has also been shown that the application of electric current with the
addition of appropriate stabilisers at the electrodes has resulted in significant improvements in
the strength characteristics of the clay, and potentially resistance to the effects of volume
One method of determining the relative performance of the clay in terms of strengthening is to
plot a graph of cone penetration, which is a direct indicator of shear strength, against water
content for both untreated and treated clay samples. Figure 3 was obtained by combining the
penetration and water content data. It illustrates that any points that lie significantly below the
trend line for untreated clay represent clays that have been beneficially altered, whereas any
points that lie significantly above it have been weakened and/or their performance has been
otherwise compromised. It is interesting to note that where water alone was used, and thus
the only chemical influence derived from anode degradation, a distinct weakening of the soil
Figure 3: Relationship between penetration (i.e. shear strength) and water content
(After Rogers et al, 2003)

Future Work
In the future, it will be assessed what happens when appropriately selected stabilisers react
with different types of clay soils, both when mixed and when transported using electric
currents, and the amount of stabilisers needed for these reactions to occur. Further
investigation will be conducted to isolate the effects of such parameters as the iron release by
replacing the steel electrodes with electrodes that are less susceptible to the redox reactions.
Investigation will also take place to assess the optimum voltage needed for this process to be
successful. The testing will be conducted with different curing periods in order to establish the
time needed for the ion migration and the stabilisation reactions to occur.

Rogers, C.D.F., Barker, J.E., Boardman, D.I. and Peterson, J. 2002. Electrokinetic
Stabilisation of a Silty Clay Soil. Proceedings of 4th International Conference on Ground
Improvement Techniques. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Vol. 2, pp. 621-628.
Rogers, C.D.F., Liaki, C., and Boardman, D.I. 2003. Advances in the Engineering of Lime
Stabilised Clay Soils. Keynote Paper, International Conference on Problematic Soils,
Nottingham, UK.