Soil is alive (SOIA)

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Irene Rocchi


Associate Professor


Technical University of Denmark


DKK 4,874,420




Semper Ardens: Accelerate


The SoiA project wants to use biology to improve the way soil deformation and resistance can be modelled in ground engineering as a function of time, specifically creep and erodiblity. These two processes are suggested to be driven by microbial activity and plant roots/fungi hyphae, respectively. The idea is that the type and amount of microbes and/or ogranic matter determines the progression of settlements with time (creep), because of the properties and quantity of biological waste produced. Similarly because the substances released underground by plants and fungi glue the soil particles together preventing erosion, the idea is to find out if these substances have a different effect based on which nutrients are consumed/fixed by plants due to different “glue” properties.


There are time-dependent phenomena, such as soil creep and particle aggregation, which are unexplained at a fundamental level and difficult to predict. This is because ground engineering tries to model soil as inert whereas biological factors dictate several physical and chemical processes at a microscopic scale. The knowledge about bio-mediated processes brought about by SoiA is crucial to improve soil quality and engineering properties, as well as understanding the soil ecosystem and improve its resiliency. Specific knowledge about how these processes modify soil properties is also necessary to maintain built infrastructure and design multi-functional living biogeochemical ecosystems, which can tackle several issues at the same time. For example, prevent saline ingression in groundwater or restore brownfields, while contributing to carbon capture and depletion.


The SoiA project will look at the different aspects of the soil ecosystem: vegetation, microbiota and soil. We will first identify the main players and characterize them by molecular analytical methods and microscopy imaging. Then we will test the functioning of the ecosystem in the laboratory and assess the engineering soil properties as a function of the activities of its microorganisms. A combination of natural samples and artificial ones, whose characteristics can be more easily controlled, will be tested to allow validation of the theories developed.

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