Biological Stabilisers in Earthen Construction: A Mechanistic Understanding of their Response to Water-Ingress

Y. Kulshreshtha*, P.J. Vardon, Y. Du, G. Habert, A. Vissac, J.C. Morel, M.C.M. van Loosdrecht, N.J.A. Mota, H.M. Jonkers, More Authors

*Corresponding author for this work

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Earthen construction is re-gaining popularity as an ecological and economical alternative to contemporary building materials. While building with earth offers several benefits, its performance due to water ingress is a concern for its widespread application. This limitation is often solved by adding chemical stabilisers such as Portland cement and hydraulic lime. Chemical stabilisers are a subject of widespread debate as they increase the cost and embodied energy of the structure, and reduce the desirable characteristics of raw or unstabilised earth. This along with perceived environmental performance, renewability, and proven effectiveness in traditional earthen construction has led to a growing interest in biological or organic stabilisers. Although the strengthening mechanism of biological stabilisers is widely covered in scientific studies, discussion regarding the water-resistance is limited. This review aggregates the research from the field of earthen construction and geotechnical engineering and extends it to explain the possible mechanism responsible for the water-resistance behaviour of biologically stabilised earthen materials. This study includes a wide range of traditional and industrial biological stabilisers derived from animals (cow-dung, casein, chitosan), plants (starch, guar gum, cactus mucilage, lignin, tannin) seaweeds (alginate, agar, carrageen) and microbes (xanthan gum, gellan gum). A conceptual model of water-ingress in unstabilised earthen blocks is proposed and the response of biological stabiliser to water ingress and related physico-chemical and physical factors is discussed using the model at microscale (stabiliser interaction with clay, sand) and macroscale (hydraulic conductivity of block). Properties of stabilisers such as hydrophobicity, stability under wet conditions or interaction with cations have a dominant effect on the overall response to water ingress. Key gaps have been identified in the existing knowledge that are necessary to investigate in order to understand the water-resistance behaviour comprehensively. The study concludes with a brief assessment of biological stabilisers based on their performance and feasibility to use in contemporary earthen construction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-539
Number of pages11
JournalConstruction Technologies and Architecture
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • earthen construction
  • biological stabiliser
  • water ingress
  • ater-resistance

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