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$9M in Grants to Help Explore Engineering Potential for Biopolymer-Enhanced Soil

Biopolymer vert
Biopolymer engineering group
The student-faculty team includes: Front row: Vikash Persaud (undergrad CME), Zhuolin Xia (Grad, MSCE), Shoumik Saha (Grad, MSCE) Jose Nicasio (Grad, MSCE) Kuna-Che Feng (Postdoc), Yiwei Fang (Grad, MSCE) Back row: Hongyu Li (Grad, MSCE), David Carlson (Research Scientist), Olias Christie (ugrad, CME), Prof Sherif Abdelaziz (Virginia Tech, PI), Steve Larson (ERDC), Dilip Gersappe (MSCE), Miriam Rafailovich (MSCE), Marcia Simon (Oral Biology), Jay Gao (Research Scientist).

Leading a team of researchers in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, Professor and Department Chair Dilip Gersappe has secured two grants, totaling $9 million over the next four years to explore and validate the potential of replacing cement, which is environmentally expensive, with naturally derived biopolymers to increase the structural stability of soil.

The first award of $5 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is to develop the fundamental principles by which biopolymers can be used to strengthen and improve the properties of earthen structures. Using a mix of computational modeling and experimental analysis, the project, titled “Understanding Technological Concepts of Biopolymer-Amended Soils,” will study the molecular mechanisms by which these microbially derived polymers enhance the strength and cohesion of soils. It will hence establish the relationship between the molecular scale and the structural properties of these soils.

The second grant of $4 million, also awarded by ERDC, will test and confirm the principles developed in the first proposal at engineering scales. Titled “Validation of Biopolymer-Amended Soils Response in Lab Environments,” this project will develop predictive models and experimentally validate them to scale up and thus enable the large-scale deployment of these biopolymers in field tests. These models will be used to tailor both the biopolymer and its application method to achieve the desired structural properties of specific soils. Since ERDC conducts research in support of both military installations and civilian works projects at federal, state and municipal levels, this project will significantly impact construction practices in areas ranging from soil remediation, treatment, and stabilizations of constructed structures.

Biopolymer vert
From left to right: Vikash Persaud, Yiwei Fang, Kuan-Che Feng, Jay Gao, Steve Larson and Olias Christie.

“The application of cutting edge research approaches and modern technology towards solving real world problems is the ultimate win for researchers,” said Steve Larson, team leader, Inorganic Research Environmental Engineering Branch of the ERDC. “This cooperative agreement between Stony Brook and Army researchers represents a transition from laboratory research to field demonstration of an applied technology. The Army’s ability to partner with top researchers at an exemplary institution is expected to produce new technology for the benefit of society.”

“These two projects represent a new bio-inspired way of amending soils,” Gersappe said. “By enhancing the natural strengthening mechanisms present in soil using biopolymers, we are reducing our dependency on cement which contributes to around 8% of worldwide carbon emissions. In addition, by working closely with ERDC researchers and facilities we will be able to translate our research from fundamental principles to large scale field tests and application cases. What makes these projects so rewarding is that the wide reach of ERDC will ensure that our research will have a significant environmental impact.”

Gersappe is the principal investigator (PI) on both these projects, and Distinguished Professor Miriam Rafailovich is co-PI. Both these grants are in collaboration with Virginia Tech, where Associate Professor Sherif Abdelaziz is the PI.

As the research organization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the ERDC conducts research and development in support of the soldier, military installations, and civil works projects (water resources, environmental missions, etc.) as well as for other federal agencies, state and municipal authorities, and with U.S. industry through innovative work agreements.

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