Compressibility, Structure, and Leaching Assessments of an Alluvium Stabilized with a Biochar–Slag Binder

Paul Sargent, Julieta Gonzalez, Christopher J. Ennis

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Deep dry soil mixing is a ground improvement technique commonly used for treating soft soils. Portland cement is the most commonly used binder, but its long-term use is unsustainable due to the high CO2 emissions associated with its manufacture. Alkali-activated cements are a low-carbon alternative that involve the use of pozzolanic industrial by-products and wastes. This study provides insights into the one-dimensional compressibility, internal cemented structure and leaching characteristics of an alluvial soil stabilized with a new 100% waste-based cementitious binder, comprising biochar as the alkali activator and blast furnace slag as the pozzolan. The binder recently was demonstrated by the authors to satisfy European soil stabilization 28-day compressive strength requirements when using dosages of 7.5% and 10% by dry weight. The biochar successfully activated the pozzolanic properties of the slag, whereby the stabilized soil mixtures developed a cemented microstructure which resulted in improvements in compressibility and stiffness. Oedometer data sets for untreated and biochar–slag- and CEM-II-stabilized alluvium were processed successfully through a framework developed by the authors to quantify their artificially cemented internal structure, for use as an input parameter in advanced constitutive soil models. Leaching results indicated that the heavy and trace metal content of 1- and 28-day cured biochar–slag-stabilized samples complied with UK and European waste acceptance criteria, and with mean baseline heavy metal concentrations for groundwater resources in England and Wales. This study advocates the new biochar–slag binder as a suitable replacement for portland cements in soil stabilization, contributing to the path toward net zero carbon emissions for the ground engineering sector and improving the circular economy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number04023114
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering
Issue number12
Early online date26 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska Curie Grant agreement no. 801604, along with Teesside University. The authors also thank ETIA for providing samples of biochar, and Hanson Cements for providing samples of ground granulated blast furnace slag.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Society of Civil Engineers.


  • Compressibility
  • Structure
  • Leaching
  • soil stabilization
  • Slag
  • Biochar
  • Circular economy
  • Soil stabilization


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