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University spin-out helps bring stability to crumbling slopes.

Byline: John Hill

ATECHNIQUE pioneered in Newcastle is attracting attention from organisations looking to strengthen old rail and road embankments.

Newcastle University spin-out Electrokinetic uses a patented technique, called Electrokinetic Geosynthetics, to remove water from fine-grain ground and waste material.

This makes it more solid and less prone to slipping and crumbling. The firm has been working with Network Rail for a number of years to stabilise embankments around rail lines, and has also helped the Highways Agency on sites such as A21 embankments near Hildenborough in Kent.

The first phase of the strengthening operation on the A21 started in early November. It is now in discussions with companies abroad who want to use its technology, such as a firm on the west coast of the USA.

Director David Huntley said: "With our method, you can strengthen slopes and embankments without closing any roads or rail lines." The process involves inserting the company's patented device - which features an anode and a cathode - into the ground.

By applying voltage, the water is driven toward the cathode and drained out through a pipe.

"This de-watering strengthens the ground, and the effects are maintained by leaving the anode and cathode in place after the initial procedure," Huntley said.

Chief executive John Lamont-Black said: "The UK has a well-known problem with slopes and embankments.

They do fall, and are sometimes weak and unstable Our rail network infrastructure is ageing and now showing its age. Some of these embankments go back to the 1830s and they didn't have the same engineering methods we do now.

"There are a variety of different techniques that are now used for strengthening, mostly involving either replacing the soil or heavy reinforcement through hard engineering structural solutions like sheet piles or concrete piles. These methods deal with the symptoms.

"This is dealing with the causes and not just the symptoms.

"Instead of pinning back wet, weak soil, it goes in there and deals with it." The company said the process boasts up to 50% less carbon emissions than other conventional techniques.

Another use is in waste management, reducing the volume of waste that needs to be dealt with by sucking the water out of it.

Huntley said: "We're completing this order and have another big one in the UK, but we're currently in discussions internationally as well.

"We're moving the technology forward in other areas such as the mining sector where we're de-watering waste materials, but the area that's really leaping forward is slope stabilisation.

"It's an area that could have significant potential benefits."
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 22, 2012
Words:424
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