Regeneration of Land
ROBUST – the Regeneration Of Brownfield Using Sustainable Technologies is a 5 year EPSRC-funded project between the School of Engineering (Dr Karen Johnson) and the Department of Geography (Dr Clare Bambra) which brings together engineers, health and social geographers, scientists, physicists and geochemists, to work with communities to regenerate their brownfield land. The ROBUST project forms a major part of the ‘Industry, Land and Health’ Programme of Work.
‘Low-value’ brownfield land is often of less interest to property developers and only marginally polluted, but these sites are often situated in the heart of communities. ROBUST is specifically interested in understanding the public perception of the risk of brownfield land and its remediation with regard to health and wellbeing. Low-value brownfield sites may provide people's nearest ‘countryside’ and community regeneration of these sites therefore has the potential to improve people's quality of life and mental health and wellbeing. ROBUST will engage with local communities to reclaim these low-value brownfield sites to improve their local environment and quality of life.
The sustainable technologies in ROBUST involve using 'waste' products from industry. These 'wastes' are actually valuable minerals which have excellent soil remediation properties; minerals such as manganese oxide are already naturally present in soil and form a large part of the soil's natural defence system against man-made pollution. These minerals will be added to the brownfield land and will help transform organic contaminants such as petrol into harmless byproducts and immobilise any metal contaminants within the ground. Using 'waste' products means sending less to landfill and extracting smaller quantities of primary aggregates, all of which makes our society more sustainable.
ROBUST will also develop a new piece of field equipment for quicker and safer data collection on contaminants at brownfield sites (in conjunction with Dr Gallant from the School of Engineering). We will be using the newly discovered far-infrared terahertz radiation to 'see' contaminants on site. This radiation is completely safe and has wavelengths just beyond visible light. Unlike other forms of radiation (such as ultraviolet radiation) terahertz is very good at identifying contaminants without any interference effects from the background soil. Not only will the new device revolutionise site investigation work, thereby saving the contaminated land industry hundreds of thousands of pounds (by reducing uncertainty about where to drill boreholes and where to remediate) but it will allow a vast improvement in our understanding of how contaminants interact with minerals in soil. We are particularly interested in how brownfield land remediation technologies will react to various climate change scenarios such as flooding.
Pilot studies of the sustainable technologies will be carried out in 1m3 Perspex cubic containers where the public will be able to observe both the soil profile and the vegetated surface. Leachate, which is rainwater that has passed through soil, will tell us about contaminant mobility. The improved data collection provided by the new terahertz field equipment will provide sufficient information to carry out detailed computer modelling (in conjunction with Drs Toll and Augarde from Durham’s School of Engineering, Professor Kirk Nordstrom from US Geological Survey and Professor Ed Tipping from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) of the fundamental mechanisms operating between the contaminants in the soil and the remediative mineral which has been added to it. The computer model will help to reduce uncertainty about both public and environmental health risks associated with brownfield regeneration, as well as any potential geomechanical risks met in the development of contaminated land for new builds in the 21st Century.