Use of bacterial ureolysis for improved gelation of silica sol in rock grouting

MacLachlan, E. and El Mountassir, G. and Lunn, R. J. (2013) Use of bacterial ureolysis for improved gelation of silica sol in rock grouting. Geotechnique Letters, 3 (4). 180–184. ISSN 2045-2543 (

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Low pH silica-based grouts suitable for penetrating fine aperture fractures are increasingly being developed for use in engineering applications. Silica sol has an initial low viscosity and mixing with an accelerator destabilises the suspension producing a gel. The influence of sodium, calcium and ammonium chloride accelerators on gel time, rate of gelation and shear strength of the resulting gel were investigated in this study. For the first time the potential use of bacterial ureolysis as an accelerator for the destabilisation of silica sol was also explored. This study demonstrates that bacterial ureolysis can be used to control the gelation of silica sol. The rate of ureolysis increases with increasing bacterial density, resulting in faster gel times and higher rates of gelation. In addition, for grouts with similar gel times, using bacterial ureolysis to induce destabilisation results in a higher rate of gelation, a higher final shear strength and a more uniform gel than direct addition of the corresponding chemical accelerator. These results suggest that bacterial ureolysis could potentially be used in rock grouting to achieve long gel times and hence greater penetration, while also maintaining sufficiently rapid gelation to minimise issues related to fingering and erosion of the fresh grout.