You are on page 1of 6





The use of live plants to add structural strength to a soil mass is often
termed bioengineering. That term, however, covers a broad range of
sciences, many of them dealing with medical applications. The discussion
which follows is limited to applications involving the environment.
Historical records show that as early as the 12th century in China, plantings
were used to stabilize slopes. Earliest documented use in the US is about a
century ago. This practice almost disappeared a half century ago, with the
development of sophisticated slope stabilization and erosion control
procedures, concurrent with more efcient eld equipment. In the last two
decades, however, the practice has been growing again, due in large part to
the current interest in protecting the environment, and re-creating natural
habitat destroyed during construction.
The simplest and most widespread use of plantings is to cover part or
all of a slope with small trees, such as pine, oak, or willow, and/or low
ground cover. This is most often done on slopes which are relatively stable
by themselves, or can be expected to remain stable until the plantings can
take root on their own. Slopes adjacent to highway overpasses and bridge
abutments are often treated in this fashion, also creating a more aesthetic
appearance than stone block or concrete.

Copyright 2003 by Marcel Dekker, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Live cuttings can be used to stabilize an existing slope by inserting

them into holes drilled horizontally or on a small downslope. This method is
often used when the slope is too steep for surface plantings. The cuttings are
placed on a grid, often square, closely enough so that the developing root
structures will overlap. Live and dead cuttings and stakes are used in many
ways to stabilize soils and prevent erosion, as indicated in Figure 8.1. Data
on all those methods can be downloaded on the internet. Two examples are
shown in Figures 8.2 and 8.3
Bioengineering solutions are advantageous because they are low-cost
and low-maintenance, and they offer benets to wild life and aesthetics.



Microbes are the largest biomass on earth. They have been around for over
three billion years, and currently exist and thrive in every harsh
environment. They have obviously been able to evolve and change to
keep pace with their changing environments. Engineers and scientists
continue to study ways in which microbes can be made to evolve to solve
human problems. One of those problems is the pollution of soil and water.
Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi obtain energy and
nutrients by consuming complex compounds, and returning simpler
compounds to the environment. This process is termed biodegradation,
and occurs naturally in soil and water. The use of microbes to remove
pollutants from soil and water is termed bioremediation. The best known
current use is the cleaning of oil spills. However, there may be many other
contaminents that microbes can be encouraged or bred to consume.
Microbes do their work by selectively digesting unwanted materials,
converting them generally to innocuous materials like water and carbon
When treating contaminated soils, the rst decision to be made is
whether appropriate microbes exist in place, or must be imported. The
second decision relates to the soil mass to be treated. Microorganisms
require inorganic nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen in order to
sustain the required biodegradation process. If these nutrients do not exist in
sufcient quantity, they must be added.
Bioremediation uses widely available equipment, is generally less
costly than other methods, and usually doesnt produce waste products that
require disposal.

Copyright 2003 by Marcel Dekker, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Reference source for soil bioengineering data.

Copyright 2003 by Marcel Dekker, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

FIGURE 8.2 Slope stabilization with plantings. (Courtesy of Robbin B. Sotir &
Associates, Marietta, GA.)



Concern for the destruction of the environment, both on a large and small
scale, is one of the factors prompting the growth of bioengineering and
biostabilization. The increasing necessity to use marginal lands for
construction has fostered the development of equipment and techniques
to make the use of such lands economically feasible. At the same time,

Copyright 2003 by Marcel Dekker, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

FIGURE 8.3 Slope stabilization using live stakes. (Courtesy of Robbin B. Sotir
& Associates, Marietta, GA.)

construction destroys ground cover and wild life habitat, and often lays to
waste entire small ecosystems. Some of this destruction can be restored
through judicious and maximum use of live vegetation.
Plantings of various kinds have proven to be cost-effective alternatives
to remedy slope stability and erosion problems. A minimum of simple and
readily available equipment is needed for the installation of plantings.
Trained personnel, however, are required in order to reap the maximum
Research with microorganisms over the past several decades has
shown that they consume, and can thrive on, a variety of complex
compounds. Some of these compounds are undesirable pollutants in soil
and water. Procedures have been developed, and continue to be researched,
to exploit these microbial abilities, particularly with petroleum products.

Copyright 2003 by Marcel Dekker, Inc. All Rights Reserved.






List three local sites where it is obvious that biostabilization was done.
How does bioengineering work in cleaning up oil spills?

Copyright 2003 by Marcel Dekker, Inc. All Rights Reserved.