A Newcastle University spin-out company, Electrokinetic Ltd, is using new technologies to solve an old problem: how to stabilise embankments that are in danger of collapse and causing disruption to railways or road transport links. Recent trials of their approach have demonstrated a range of technical, economic, environmental and operational benefits.
The technologies were significantly developed in the laboratories at Newcastle University by Professor Colin Jones and colleagues including Dr John Lamont-Black and Dr Stephanie Glendinning. These three continue to be closely involved in the spin-out company, with John in the role of Chief Executive.
The technologies harness ‘electro-osmosis’, the water flow that occurs in response to an imposed voltage gradient. A recent trial with Network Rail illustrates how it works. Electrodes were installed in an embankment with a history of gradual slope movement. A generator was used to maintain a voltage gradient for six weeks. At the end of the period, data showed significant volumes of water forced out of the slope and there was an immediate and continued cessation of slope movement. There was also a significant increase in soil strength.
This method of slope stabilization, known as EKG (electrokinetic geosynthetics), was remarkably cost-effective in the trial compared to traditional approaches. There was no need for heavy equipment, closure of the railway, or transport of heavy reinforcements for the embankment. In addition to the cost benefit, the carbon footprint of the process was estimated to be roughly half that of traditional approaches.
Professor David Parker, Head of School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, comments that Newcastle University and Electrokinetic Ltd “are continuing to work hand in hand to further the development of this technology and bring employment potential to the North East.”
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