Sewage treatment sludge biochar activated blast furnace slag as a low carbon binder for soft soil stabilisation

Julieta Gonzalez, Paul Sargent, Chris Ennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Portland cement forms the basis of most binders used in deep dry soil mixing, significantly improving the shear strength and compressibility properties of soils. However, due to the high environmental and socio-economic impacts of cement production, there is great interest in developing alternative low-carbon binders for soil stabilisation. One of the most desirable routes involves the use of industrial by-products, such as ground granulated blast furnace slag, whose pozzolanic properties require activation by alkali agents. This paper assesses the feasibility of using sewage treatment sludge biochar as a low-carbon 100% waste-based alternative to traditional alkali agents. Two biochar:slag ratios (0.5:0.5 and 0.67:0.33) were added to an artificial soil at dosages of 7.5 and 10% by dry weight and cured for up to 56 days. The engineering performance of these stabilised soil mixtures was assessed by performing a suite of compressive strength, pH, water content, mineralogical and microstructural analyses. Results were compared with those of untreated and CEM-II stabilised alluvium, along with data published in the literature. Biochar was observed to successfully activate the pozzolanic properties of the slag, whereby the studied mixtures resulted in 28-day strengths that met European soil stabilisation standards requirements. Binder mixtures with higher biochar concentrations achieved greater strengths. The best performing mixture had a biochar-slag ratio of 0.67:0.33 and dosage of 10%, which produced strengths up to 1243 kPa. This study suggests that the biochar-slag binder has encouraging prospects for replacing Portland cements in soil stabilisation, reducing the carbon footprint of the construction sector and improving the circular economy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number127553
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2021


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