Arizona State University says they were awarded its second Engineering Research Center from the National Science Foundation, making it one of only two universities in the nation to lead two of the prestigious centers.
NSF announced that ASU will lead the $18.5 million Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG), which will pioneer advances to solve some of the world’s biggest environmental and infrastructure development problems. For example, the center will aim to make soil stronger so that building foundations can better withstand earthquakes.
CBBG’s researchers will focus on “nature-compatible” approaches to boosting the resiliency of civil infrastructure, improving the effectiveness of environmental protection and ecological restoration methods, and developing ways to make infrastructure construction and natural resource development operations more sustainable.
The center’s university partners are the Georgia Institute of Technology, New Mexico State University and the University of California, Davis. Engineers and scientists at those institutions will collaborate with ASU researchers to investigate the use of natural underground biological processes for engineering soil in ways that reduce construction costs while mitigating natural hazards and environmental degradation.
CBBG’s director is ASU Regents’ Professor Edward Kavazanjian. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Ira A. Fulton Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Much of CBBG’s work will concentrate on developing bio-based methods of strengthening soils as a way to produce more solid ground for building foundations and to prevent erosion that threatens human health, the environment and infrastructure systems.
Researchers, for instance, will explore the use of microbial organisms to help stabilize soils. Certain kinds of microbes produce an enzyme that can cause calcium carbonate to precipitate in porous soils, thereby hardening the ground, making it more resistant to erosion, and providing a stronger foundation for construction.
Calcium carbonate precipitation can also be used in lieu of Portland cement to stabilize pavement subgrades and to create “bio-bricks,” soil particles that are bound together into building blocks for infrastructure construction.
Other efforts will involve attempting to figure out how to equal the performance of trees in their natural ability to stabilize soil against erosion and to provide support against wind and other loads through their root systems.
“The best man-made soil-reinforcing elements and foundation systems we have developed are not as efficient as trees at stabilizing soil. We want to be able to design soil-reinforcement and foundation systems that work like tree root systems,” Kavazanjian said.
Researchers will also seek to devise technologies that match some of the subterranean earth-moving and stabilization capabilities of burrowing insects and small mammals.
“Ants are a hundred times more energy-efficient at tunneling than our current technology. They excavate very carefully and their tunnels almost never collapse,” Kavazanjian said. “If we could do what ants can do, we could make underground mining much safer.”
Similarly, he said, if engineers could design a probe with sensor technology and guidance systems that effectively digs and tunnels through soil like a mole, it would significantly improve subsurface exploration and characterization.
Such an accomplishment would lead to construction of stronger and safer roadways, bridges, dams, power plants, pipelines and buildings, and more efficient and effective oil-drilling and mining operations.
“We want to reproduce the beneficial effects that biological and biogeochemical processes can achieve, accelerate them, and then employ them on larger scales,” he said.
Progress in biogeotechnical technologies and engineering could also lead to significant improvements in methods of cleaning up environmental contaminants and restoring land denuded by erosion or industrial-scale resource extraction.
Advances could also produce better ways to fortify structures and landscapes against the destructive forces of earthquakes, including methods for combating the soil liquefaction that results from strong earthquakes and can severely destabilize large swaths of land.
Read more about the center on the CBBG website at http://www.biogeotechnics.org/home
Watch video about the CBBG at https://player.vimeo.com/video/132246323
Read more about the CBBG leadership team and faculty members will have research roles at http://www.biogeotechnics.org/people
[this post js taken from materials provided by ASU]