TerrAffix Soil Solutions was invited by Murphy Rail to trial our re-vegetation system on a rail embankment that was proving particularly challenging.
The site was a steep slope of thick, cold clay sub-soil and it was susceptible to heavy run-off over the winter. Previous attempts at establishing vegetation had failed as this sort of soil can be a difficult material for new plants.
Clay can shrink and expand in response to heat and water and it can go from being very wet and cold to very dry.
These changes can sometimes happen quite quickly, making it difficult for plants to cope.
TerrAffix trial in background
To get plants to grow it is essential to provide the basis for life: moisture, sufficient organic matter to act as a soil-forming material, nutrients and a stable surface during germination.
Following the site survey we decided to use a two-stage revegetation system for the most effective results. We began with an application of TerrAffix-HydraSoil with a microbiological inoculant and a nutrient carrier. This mixture also helps to retain water within the developing root zone during the summer months.
We applied our own fully biodegradable tackifier formula which is composed of a mixture of natural, plant-based materials and sugars. No polyacrylamide was used, which is an everyday tackifier used in hydroseeding.
We then applied a coat of TerrAffix-HydraMulch with seed and natural plant nutrients. This application creates a stable surface on steep slopes, securing the seed in place through germination.
Vegetated soil on the railway embankment post treatment with TerrAffix-HydraSoil and TerrAffix-HydraMulch
We selected seeds from a mixture of fast-establishing species to get some initial cover as well as some deep rooting species. Deep rooted plants tend to be more resilient to drought and act as natural near-surface ground anchors.
The application was made in November which happened to coincide with above-average rainfall. Nevertheless the vegetation established successfully and created a robust, resilient sward.
A key material we use is biochar which is produced at our centre. Biochar not only confers a considerable advantage to plant growth but also sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Our products come with a carbon lock guarantee which can be accounted for within any corporate social responsibility targets.
Mine tailings with stream passing through
Green Solutions to Erosion and Mine Waste
The abandoned Nant y Mwyn lead mine lies in the valley of the Pen Cerrig Mwyn mountain and stretches to the banks of the Afon Tywi. In 1932 the mining company went bankrupt, leaving behind vast, steep-sided mounds of fine-grained and heavily polluted material.
The mine waste is too contaminated for anything to grow, and much of the site is bare.
With no vegetation to cover the soil and no roots to stabilise the surface the waste heaps are prone to severe erosion. As the tailings erode the material is deposited in rivers and pasture and causes significant contamination of the surrounding area.
TerrAffix have been working on a solution that is both cheap and effective and will vegetate mine sites such as Nant y Mwyn. The trials are being studied by Heather De-Quincey of Swansea University, who has a background in geochemistry.
Nant y Mwyn mine tailings and spoil heaps with the stream below
Extensive Pollution Impacts from Orphaned Mines
The waste from Nant y Mwyn impacts upon 65 km of waterways and causes environmental standard failures for zinc, copper, lead and cadmium.
Most mine reclamation strategies involve using machinery to re-profile the landscape before capping the waste with geotextiles and clay.
However, for orphaned mines with no owner liability, the cost of this process is prohibitively expensive for the government bodies with whom the responsibility falls.
Research into Solutions
TerrAffix have been sponsoring Heather’s PhD, developing and testing a low-cost green-engineering solution to reduce the erosion and the spread of pollution without the need for hard engineering.
This involves hydroseeding a biochar-enhanced, organic growing medium created from sustainable natural materials and seeding with a diverse acid and metal-tolerant selection of grasses that mimic the native community.
Nant y Mwyn mine tailings and spoil heaps with the stream below
The vegetation, which is rapid, immediately reduces erosion, and long term these plants will facilitate nutrient cycling and soil formation, both essential processes which initiate ecosystem complexity.
Green Long Term Solutions
The on-going work is helping us develop cheaper and more effective reclamation strategies for mines which have previously been too expensive to remediate, ultimately providing a low-cost and accessible solution to land contamination and erosion reduction.
Frongoch Plot 2 sprayed with TerrAffix-Hydrasoil (before and 22 days after)
At an old lead and zinc mine in the heart of Ceredigion a fantastic transformation is happening. After years of polluting mine works the site resembled something from another planet or a blasted moonscape. That was until we started trialling our TerrAffix-HydraSoil.
The soil was massively degraded with high levels of pollutants. Nothing much has been able to grow on this site. A few sparse grasses clung to life but that was all.
Our specialist system has been trialled at the site against a number of competitors’ systems. We are pleased to report a significant environmental transformation where the TerrAffix-HydraSoil was applied.
TerrAffix-HydraSoil is specially suited for this terrain.
Not only does it enable plants to grow but it also prevents the pollutants from bioaccumulating in the plants.
The unique combination of natural and reclaimed ingredients act to lock in heavy metal pollutants so they aren’t taken up by the plants.
The product also has the significant benefit of sequestering CO2, enabling companies to achieve even more environmental targets.
The system offers enormous environmental benefits and has been shown to be easy and safe to apply, even on difficult and hard to reach terrains.
Each site is unique with its own individual challenges. Frongoch’s specific soil structure and composition were analysed by staff. They then made the appropriate tweaks to the system to effectively deal with the levels of heavy metals at that site.
Plot 1 showing the stark contrast between unsprayed and sprayed ground
NRW stated: “This is very exciting, we can see this system offers real potential benefits on heavily polluted land which needs remediating.”
TerrAffix-HydraSoil offers hope for all owners of significantly polluted sites.
TerrAffix HydraSoil close up
A three-year research project into the use of biochar for sustainable soils backed by UN Environment has culminated in excellent results and a thorough endorsement of biochar.
The project trained 500 farmers across six countries to make and use biochar. Johan Robinson, Portfolio Manager for UN Environment Biodiversity and Land Degradation, says:
“The project has demonstrated that nature-friendly solutions have multiple benefits for communities. From improving the productivity of soil to achieve higher yields, to helping manage waste and increasing carbon sequestration capacity – the advantages are clear. It’s now time to think about how to upscale the findings of the project to reach even more farmers globally”.
The multiple benefits of biochar
The exciting results of this project, which included enhanced plant growth (15-20% in one farm’s case) and a significant reduction in the need for fertiliser, highlight the economical and environmental benefits of using biochar made from locally available biomass residues.
TerrAffix Soil Solutions Ltd® is leading the way in the production and use of biochar as a soil remediation solution.
It is already recognised for its value to improve poor or polluted soils and as an element of green roofs. However, its carbon sequestration abilities have been less well understood or recognised up until now.
This UN project adds weight to our belief that biochar can have a fundamental positive impact upon our world.
Greenroof enhanced with Biochar
Biochar in a booming bioeconomy
Polluted landscapes can be recovered, re-establishing soils and vegetation. This means that pollutants are immobilised or soaked up before they reach water courses. Biochar sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide as it fixed carbon into soil and is used to re-establish the soil ecosystem.
If our technologies, which use biochar as part of the solution, are taken up for use on highly polluted sites and roadside swales around Europe, we could see the start of a really green revolution – a bioeconomic revolution using renewable biological resources.
Biochar’s carbon sequestration abilities will help us to achieve a sustainable global future and reduce the impact of climate change.