Experimental Characterization and Quantification of Cement-Bentonite Interaction using Core Infiltration Techniques Coupled with X-ray Tomography

Dolder, Florian Dominik; Mäder, Urs; Jenni, Andreas (2015). Experimental Characterization and Quantification of Cement-Bentonite Interaction using Core Infiltration Techniques Coupled with X-ray Tomography (In Press). (Dissertation, Institut für Geologie, Philosophischen-naturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät)

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Deep geological storage of radioactive waste foresees cementitious materials as reinforcement of tunnels and as backfill. Bentonite is proposed to enclose spent fuel canisters and as drift seals. Sand/bentonite (s/b) is foreseen as backfill material of access galleries or as drift seals. The emplacement of cementitious material next to clay material generates an enormous chemical gradient in pore-water composition that drives diffusive solute transport. Laboratory studies and reactive transport modeling predicted significant mineral alteration at and near interfaces, mainly resulting in a decrease of porosity in bentonite.
The goal of this thesis was to characterize and quantify the cement/bentonite interactions both spatially and temporally in laboratory experiments. A newly developed mobile X-ray transparent core infiltration device was used to perform X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans without interruption of running experiments. CT scans allowed tracking the evolution of the reaction plume and changes in core volume/diameter/density during the experiments.
In total 4 core infiltration experiments were carried out for this study with the compacted and saturated cores consisting of MX-80 bentonite and sand/MX-80 bentonite mixture (s/b; 65/35%). Two different high-pH cementitious pore-fluids were infiltrated: a young (early) ordinary Portland cement pore-fluid (APWOPC; K+–Na+–OH-; pH 13.4; ionic strength 0.28 mol/kg) and a young ‘low-pH’ ESDRED shotcrete pore-fluid (APWESDRED; Ca2+–Na+–K+–formate; pH 11.4; ionic strength 0.11 mol/kg). The experiments lasted between 1 and 2 years.
In both bentonite experiments, the hydraulic conductivity was strongly reduced after switching to high-pH fluids, changing eventually from an advective to a diffusion-dominated transport regime. The reduction was mainly induced by mineral precipitation and possibly partly also by high ionic strength pore-fluids. Both bentonite cores showed a volume reduction and a resulting transient flow in which pore-water was squeezed out during high-pH infiltration. The outflow chemistry was characterized by a high ionic strength, while chloride in the initial pore water got replaced as main anionic charge carrier by sulfate, originating from gypsum dissolution. The chemistry of the high-pH fluids got strongly buffered by the bentonite, consuming hydroxide and in case of APWESDRED also formate. Hydroxide got consumed by mineral reactions (saponite and possibly talc and brucite precipitation), while formate being affected by bacterial degradation. Post-mortem analysis showed reaction zones near the inlet of the bentonite core, characterized by calcium and magnesium enrichment, consisting predominately of calcite and saponite, respectively. Silica got enriched in the outflow, indicating dissolution of silicate-minerals, identified as preferentially cristobalite.
In s/b, infiltration of APWOPC reduced the hydraulic conductivity strongly, while APWESDRED infiltration had no effect. The reduction was mainly induced by mineral precipitation and probably partly also by high ionic strength pore-fluids. Not clear is why the observed mineral precipitates in the APWESDRED experiment had no effect on the fluid flow. Both s/b cores showed a volume expansion along with decreasing ionic strengths of the outflow, due to mineral reactions or in case of APWESDRED infiltration also mediated by microbiological activity, consuming hydroxide and formate, respectively. The chemistry of the high-pH fluids got strongly buffered by the s/b. In the case of APWESDRED infiltration, formate reached the outflow only for a short time, followed by enrichment in acetate, indicating most likely biological activity. This was in agreement to post-mortem analysis of the core, observing black spots on the inflow surface, while the sample had a rotten-egg smell indicative of some sulfate reduction. Post-mortem analysis showed further in both cores a Ca-enrichment in the first 10 mm of the core due to calcite precipitation. Mg-enrichment was only observed in the APWOPC experiment, originating from newly formed saponite. Silica got enriched in the outflow of both experiments, indicating dissolution of silicate-minerals, identified in the OPC experiment as cristobalite.
The experiments attested an effective buffering capacity for bentonite and s/b, a progressing coupled hydraulic-chemical sealing process and also the preservation of the physical integrity of the interface region in this setup with a total pressure boundary condition on the core sample. No complete pore-clogging was observed but the hydraulic conductivity got rather strongly reduced in 3 experiments, explained by clogging of the intergranular porosity (macroporosity). Such a drop in hydraulic conductivity may impact the saturation time of the buffer in a nuclear waste repository, although the processes and geometry will be more complex in repository situation.

Item Type:

Thesis (Dissertation)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Dolder, Florian Dominik; Mäder, Urs and Jenni, Andreas


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology






Florian Dominik Dolder

Date Deposited:

12 Nov 2015 13:26

Last Modified:

12 Nov 2015 13:26





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