Applying aluminum-organic matter precipitates to reduce soil permeability in-situ: A field and modeling study

J. Zhou*, S. Laumann, T.J. Heimovaara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Using naturally occurring processes to modify the engineering properties of the subsurface has received increasing attention from industry and research communities as they aid in the development of cost-effective, robust and sustainable engineering technologies. In line with this trend, we propose to use precipitates of aluminum (Al) and organic matter (OM) to reduce soil permeability in-situ. This process is inspired by podzolization: a soil stratification process where a layer with low permeability is developed at depth via the precipitation of metal-OM complexes. In this study, the concept of applying Al-OM precipitates for in-situ soil permeability reduction was for the first time applied in the field. The aim of the field experiment was to create a cylindrical flow barrier in a sand layer at depth. In order to design and engineer the field application, we performed a series of scenario analyses with a site-specific 3D reactive transport model. This led to an in-situ engineering approach where a flow barrier was created by separate injection of Al and OM using a combined injection/extraction strategy. During the field application, the local variation of soil conditions required significant modifications to the design. Further scenario analyses with the model were conducted to adapt the original design and to understand the consequences of these modifications. The results show that a cylindrical flow barrier was created after an injection period of 8 days. The precipitation of Al-OM is a highly localized process, where large amount of precipitates is formed in the close vicinity of the injection filter screens. Evaluation of pumping tests that were performed after the injection activities revealed that the permeability of the treated sand was reduced to 2% of its original value. This first full-scale field test demonstrates that applying Al-OM precipitates is a suitable bio-based engineering tool to reduce soil permeability in-situ.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-109
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Bio-based engineering
  • Flow barrier
  • In-situ permeability reduction
  • Metal-organic matter complexation
  • Reactive transport modeling

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