The influence of particle morphology on microbially induced CaCO3 clogging in granular media

Chenpeng Song, Derek Elsworth, Sheng Zhi, Chaoyi Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Sporosarcina pasteurii (ATCC 11859) is a nitrogen-circulating bacterium capable of precipitating calcium carbonate given a calcium source and urea. This microbially induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) is able to infill inter-granular porosity and act as a biological clogging agent, thus having a wide potential application in strengthening coastal foundations, preventing erosion by seas and rivers and in reducing sand liquefaction potential in coastal areas. A successful MICP application requires the understanding of the primary parameters that influence the microbially mediated process to achieve its engineering goals, such as injection scheme, chemical concentrations, retention times, and injection rates. However, the granular morphology has generally been oversimplified to ideal shape without enough consideration in previous studies. The following explores the critical micro-scale influence of particle morphology on mechanisms of microbially induced clogging. Spherical, non-spherical and angular particles were used as granular aggregates in permeating column experiments with the resulting permeability and calcium carbonate content of the treated aggregates examined. Microscopic examination (SEM) defines the features of the distribution of microbially precipitated calcium carbonate and the forms of clogging. The results show: (1) given a fixed duration of treatment, the calcium carbonate content for the spherical particle aggregate is significantly higher than that for near-spherical and angular particle aggregates; (2) for identical durations of treatment, the maximum permeability reduction occurs for angular particles (rather than for spherical particles with the highest carbonate content). This suggests that the microscopic distribution of calcium carbonate is significantly influenced by particle morphology, exerting a critical control in the effectiveness of clogging. SEM images indicate that the microbial calcium carbonate precipitates encapsulate the spherical particles as a near-uniform shell and occlude the pore space only by increasing the shell thickness. In contrast, the near-spherical and angular particles are only partially coated by a calcium carbonate film with scattered crystals of vaterite and calcite further clogging the void space. The polyhedral nature of the non-spherical particles tends to result in a slot-shaped pore structure which critically defines the hydraulic conductivity of the ensemble medium. As the microbial vaterite and calcite continue to accumulate on the particle surface, these slot-shaped pore structures become increasingly more tortuous–resulting in a noticeable reduction of permeability at a lower calcium carbonate content.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-81
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Georesources and Geotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Ocean Engineering


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