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A study on the mechanical interaction between soil and colloidal silica gel for ground improvement

Wong, Christopher and Pedrotti, Matteo and El Mountassir, Grainne and Lunn, Rebecca J. (2018) A study on the mechanical interaction between soil and colloidal silica gel for ground improvement. Engineering Geology, 243. pp. 84-100. ISSN 0013-7952

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    In this paper, we explore the mechanical performance of colloidal silica grout to assess its potential for ground stabilisation and hydraulic barrier formation during decommissioning of major industrially contaminated sites. We consider two colloidal silica -soil systems: sand grouted with colloidal silica and kaolin clay mixed with colloidal silica. The aims of the paper are to evaluate the drained stress-strain behaviour (1-D compression and shear resistance) of colloidal silica-soil systems and to determine the particle interactions between soil and colloidal silica at a micron-scale so as to provide an understanding of the macroscopic mechanical behaviour. Two different colloidal silica-soil interaction mechanisms have been found: formation of a solid, cohesive matrix for the case of grouted sand, and increase of the clustering of clay particles for the case of clay mixtures. This paper illustrates for the first time that even under drained conditions colloidal silica can provide mechanical improvement. Colloidal silica-grouted sand showed an increased stiffness and enhanced peak friction angle, while still having a very low hydraulic conductivity (~10−10 m/s), typical of intact clay. Similarly, clay-colloidal silica mixtures showed reduced volumetric deformation, increased stiffness for low values of stress (~100 kPa), and increases in both the peak and the ultimate shear strength. Our results show that colloidal silica could be deployed in environments where not only hydraulic containment is critical, but where reduced deformation and enhanced resistance to shearing would be beneficial, for example in landfill capping or in the outer fill layers of embankments designed to minimise internal seepage and infiltration.