Bio-geotechnical engineering of natural and engineered slopes using biofilm

The stability and safety of natural landforms and geotechnical infrastructure is influenced, positively and negatively, by the presence of living organisms, including biofilms (assemblages of microorganisms).

This project is advertised as part of the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. It is currently not available to self-funded applicants. Find out more information about the DTP including how to apply.

These can impact upon mechanical and hydraulic behaviour of soil structures, but this is only now beginning to be fully explored through work at Cardiff and elsewhere. They offer a low-intensity, low-cost, natural technique for stabilising and improving soil infrastructure, but also ‘self-healing’ properties, where biological systems automatically respond to damage or deterioration through regrowth, limiting further decline and potentially restoring functionality. This is of considerable value in offsetting infrastructure maintenance costs (slope maintenance costs on the UK’s highway network alone are estimated at £20M per annum). Understanding the behaviour of biofilm-amended soil composites will allow optimisation of land management techniques on critical infrastructure, particularly slopes on transport networks.

This project will investigate the combined mechanical and hydraulic effect of biofilm in amending soil and soil structure behaviour. Qualitatively, it is known to block soil pores and bond soil grains. Advanced geotechnical analysis of biofilm-amended soil specimens will explore how strength is affected by biofilm whilst its effect on soil drainage and slope stability will be studied. The coupled hydro-mechanical response of biofilm-amended specimens will reveal the extent to which benefits of biofilm strengthening are affected by increase in pore pressures, allowing their complete response under environmental conditions to be fully explained.


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Dr Michael Harbottle

Lecturer - Teaching and Research

+44 (0)29 2087 5759

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