Development of a microbially induced calcite and silica bio-grout for the sealing of fine aperture fractures

  • Erica Christine MacLachlan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Geological repositories are being considered as the best feasible solution for the storage of hazardous materials such as high level nuclear waste throughout the world, including the UK. However; when crystalline rock is the chosen storage medium, the construction of the underground tunnels and caverns can enhance discontinuities within the rock. These discontinuities can be pathways by which radio-nuclides can reach the biosphere, due to their higher permeability, connectivity and density (Blyth and Freitas, 1992). Thus, depending on aperture, density and predicted travel times, it may be necessary to grout all fractures, even small aperture ones, which over thousands of years can contribute significantly to subsurface flow. Conventional cementitious and chemical grouts are unsuitable within some regions of a geological disposal facility due to concerns regarding longevity, toxicity, reactions with other barriers and/or workability issues. The four main requirements of a grout are; to be of low viscosity as the lower the viscosity the easier it is to achieve good penetration, to have a controllable gel/setting time, to be chemically inert to prevent reactions within the subsurface or have any toxic consequences during preparation, and to be durable thus able to withstand exposure to varying physic-chemical condition. MICP (Microbially Induced Calcite Precipitation) and Colloidal Silica are novel grouts which may be suitable for the sealing of fine aperture fractures in rock. MICP research has been predominantly focussed on its application in sediments, whilst colloidal silica has shown its potential for reducing the liquefaction potential of non-cohesive soils and for sealing fractures. This research examines the influence of hydraulic controls (velocity, flow rate, aperture) on the spatial distribution of microbially induced calcite precipitation (MICP) within simulated fractures using flocculated Sporosarcina pasteurii.;The experimental results show that under flowing conditions, the spatial distribution of microbially induced calcite precipitate on fracture surfaces is controlled by fluid velocity. Even for a uniform initial fracture aperture with a steady flow rate, a feedback mechanism existed between velocity and precipitation that resulted in a precipitate distribution that focussed flow into a small number of self-organizing channels which remained stable. Ultimately, this feedback mechanism controlled the final aperture profile which governed flow within the fracture. To use MICP for field scale sealing operations (e.g., in aquifers and host rock surrounding nuclear waste storage sites), it is important to develop an injection strategy that ensures microbially precipitated calcite is distributed homogenously throughout the rock body to avoid preferential flow through high porosity pathways. Sporosarcina pasteurii was found to be able to hydrolyse urea for several days before the bacteria became encased within calcite preventing access to the cementing fluid. The higher rates of urea hydrolysis occurred within the first 9 hours, though significant rates of urea hydrolysis still occurred after this period. By reducing the size of bacterial flocs it is possible to reduce the impact of sedimentation and straining, promoting a more even distribution of bacteria thus calcite precipitate throughout the plate. By increasing the length of time that the bacteria flow through the fracture, more bacteria can become entrained upon the fracture surface giving a better distribution. The introduction of a filler (colloidal silica) that can also act as a nucleation site for calcite precipitation was examined as a way of reducing the time it takes for the sealing of a fracture. Both Sporosarcina pasteurii and colloidal silica have negative surface charges thus colloid
Date of Award6 Oct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsEPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
SupervisorRebecca Lunn (Supervisor) & Grainne El Mountassir (Supervisor)

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