Electrokinetic iron pan generation in unconsolidated sediments: implications for contaminated land remediation and soil engineering

Andrew Cundy, Laurence Hopkinson

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Electrokinetic remediation is an emerging technology that has generated considerable interest as a technique for the in situ remediation of clay-rich soils and sediments. Despite promising experimental results, however, at present there is no standardised universal electrokinetic soil/sediment remediation approach. Many of the current technologies are technically complex and energy intensive, and geared towards the removal of 90% or more of specific contaminants, under very specific field or laboratory-based conditions. However, in the real environment a low-tech, low-energy contaminant reduction/containment technique may be more appropriate and realistic. Such a technique, FIRS (Ferric Iron Remediation and Stabilisation), is discussed here. The FIRS technique involves the application of a low magnitude (typically less than 0.2 V/cm) direct electric potential between two or more sacrificial, Fe-rich, electrodes emplaced in, or either side of, a contaminated soil or sediment. The electric potential is used to generate a strong pH (and Eh) gradient within the soil column (pH 2–13), and force the precipitation of an Fe-rich barrier or “pan” in the soil between the electrodes. Geochemical and geotechnical data for FIRS-treated sediments from the Ravenglass estuary, Cumbria, UK indicate that the technique can significantly reduce contaminant concentration in treated soil, by remobilisation of contaminants and concentration on, or around, the Fe-rich barrier. Arsenic, in particular, seems highly amenable to the FIRS treatment, due to its solubility under the high pH conditions generated near to the cathode, and its marked geochemical affinity with the freshly precipitated Fe oxides and oxyhydroxides in the Fe barrier. Geotechnical tests indicate that the Fe barrier produced by the technique is practically impervious (permeability = 10−9 m/s or less), and has moderate mechanical strength (UCS not, vert, similar11 N/mm2). Notably, a large increase in shear strength in the treated soil near to the anode electrode (due to Fe cementation and/or dewatering) is also observed, without significant loss of porosity. The data indicate that the FIRS technique shows considerable promise as an in situ method for contaminated land remediation and soil water containment, and for improving the mechanical properties of soils (contaminated or otherwise) for civil engineering purposes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-848
Number of pages8
JournalApplied geochemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2005


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