Acta Geotechnica

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 639–656 | Cite as

Cell-free soil bio-cementation with strength, dilatancy and fabric characterization

  • Dimitrios TerzisEmail author
  • Lyesse Laloui
Research Paper


A multi-disciplinary approach is adopted in the present work towards investigating bio-cemented geo-materials which extends from sample preparation, to microstructural inspection and mechanical behaviour characterization. We suggest a new way to induce “cell-free” soil bio-cementation along with a comprehensive description of bio-improved mechanical and microstructural properties. We utilize the soil bacterium Sporosarcina Pasteurii in freeze-dried, powder—instead of vegetative—, state and determine overall reaction rates of “cell-free” microbial-induced calcite (CaCO3) precipitation (MICP). We further investigate strength and stiffness parameters of three base geo-materials which are subjected to MICP under identical external bio-treatment conditions. Different trends in the mechanical response under unconfined and drained triaxial compression are obtained for fine-, medium- and coarse-grained sands for similar range of final CaCO3 contents. Pre- and post-yield dilatancy–stress relationships are obtained revealing the contribution of dilatancy in the achievement of peak strength. Medium-grained sand yields higher dilatancy rates and increased peak strength with respect to fine-grained sand. Further, insight into the bio-cemented material’s fabric is provided through scanning electron microscopy, time-lapse video microscopy and X-ray micro-computed tomography with subsequent 3D reconstruction of the solid matrix. A qualitative description of the observed precipitation behaviours is coupled with quantified microscopic data referring to the number, sizes, orientations and purity of CaCO3 crystals. Results reveal that MICP adapts differently to the adopted base materials. Crystalline particles are found to grow bigger in the medium-grained base material and yield more homogenous spatial distributions. Finally, a new workflow is suggested to ultimately determine the crucial contact surface between calcite bonds and soil grains through image processing and 3D volume reconstruction.


3D image processing Material fabric Micro-tomography Microbial-induced calcite precipitation Strength 

List of symbols


Microbial-induced calcite precipitation


Unconfined compressive strength


Electrical conductivity (mS/cm)


Revolutions per minute


Optical density measured at 600 nm


Polyvinyl chloride




Scanning electron microscopy


Back-scattered electron


Grain size distribution


Three dimensional


Micro-computed tomography


Conventional triaxial compression

\(\sigma_{1}^{\prime }\)

Vertical effective stress


Vertical strain


Incremental volumetric strain


Incremental deviatoric strain


Dilatancy rate


Theoretical dilatancy rate


Slope of the critical state line


Stress ratio


Maximum stress ratio


Parameter related to interparticle cohesion


Interparticle cohesion

\(p^{\prime }\)

Mean effective stress


Initial elastic modulus


Janbu modulus


Atmospheric pressure




Particle orientation phi


Particle orientation theta

\(\sigma_{3}^{\prime }\)

Effective confining pressure


Peak deviatoric stress


Residual deviatoric stress


Unloading–reloading elastic modulus


Maximum dilatancy rate


Particle diameter at which 50% of the sample's mass is comprised of particles with a diameter less than this value


Particle diameter at which 10% of the sample's mass is comprised of particles with a diameter less than this value


Minimum void ratio


Maximum void ratio


Coefficient of curvature


Uniformity coefficient



The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Lombardi Foundation and Prof. Pietro de Anna from the Geosciences Faculty of the University of Lausanne (UNIL) for his contribution in conducting the time-lapse video microscopy analysis. Additionally, the authors express their sincere thanks to the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) (Grant 200021_140246) and Swiss Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship ESKAS-Nr: 2014·0276) for their financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)LausanneSwitzerland

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