Thursday, November 30

JKR research team keeps up with bio-cement research


Chin (second right) with Swinburne’s bio-cementation team. In the background is the trough where the experiment is being carried out.

KUCHING: The Public Works Department (JKR) research team recently paid a visit to Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus (Swinburne Sarawak) to learn about their ongoing research on bio-cement.

According to a press statement, this research is part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreement between JKR Research and Swinburne Sarawak signed in April 2015 for the exchange and creation of knowledge around construction on soft soil.

Under the MoU, Swinburne Sarawak through its Faculty of Engineering will share its research and development and engage in capacity building, while JKR will facilitate industrial training for Swinburne students.

“When we found that Swinburne Sarawak had completed its first phase of testing the bio-cement, we had to come for a look. The application of this technology for rural roads construction is worth further exploration as it can be cost-effective and innovative,” said Chin Hon Sin from JKR Research Centre.

Swinburne Sarawak has a partnership with the French multinational company Bachy Soletanche to develop a bio-cement using bacteria found in Sarawak.

“The idea is simple: a specific bacteria is mixed with sandy soil, and an enzymatic process converts it to strong sandstone in a few weeks. The technology can be applied to improve rural roads, stabilise soil for construction by river banks, or prepare soil before construction,” said Swinburne’s Assoc Prof Peter Morin Nissom.

Alternatives to cement are being explored worldwide as the process of manufacturing cement emits a lot of greenhouse gases. One tonne of carbon dioxide is released when one tonne of cement is produced.

Swinburne’s Centre for Sustainable Technologies is also committed to finding cleaner alternatives for the construction industry.

“Bio-cementation is an eco-friendly technology which uses bacteria to produce green cement,” Nissom explained.

“The bacteria release an enzyme which results in the precipitation of calcite – the cementing agent for the soil. Our biggest challenge was to find the best strain of local bacteria. It had to be local as it is already well suited to the environment and cuts down the cost of mass-producing the bacteria.”

Bachy Soletanche has funded this research and tests are being carried out in a 10m3 trough on the grounds of Swinburne Sarawak. The initial tests have been encouraging and they are testing the strength of the hardened soil at different depths.

Swinburne Sarawak director of Research, Assoc Prof Wallace Wong said the project exemplified the kind of research the university wants to do.

“It’s multi-disciplinary and brings civil engineers and microbiologists together to create something new. It takes advantage of our unique location: Borneo has an extremely rich bio-diverse playground, so our researchers have painstakingly investigated lots of bacterial samples to find the best one.

“We also have an industry collaborator – vital when it comes to engineering research as it cannot be done in isolation in a lab.”