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1.1 Underground application – efficient in-situ groundwater remediation methods

Underground application –
efficient in-situ ground water remediation methods

Toxic substances that escape from under disused, unsealed landfill sites, extensive contamination of the ground and soil from long-since closed industrial sites, widespread contamination from fuel and the aftermath of weapons: these are just some examples of hazardous abandoned waste in the soil that occur in great numbers and pose a threat to the quality of groundwater. Often no one knows precisely where this abandoned waste is located because toxic substances have been disposed of incorrectly or there are no longer any witnesses. Despite these difficulties, scientists are increasingly succeeding in tracking down abandoned waste, analysing it and using new methods – directly underground (“in situ”) – to render it harmless before it reaches the groundwater. This is essential, as around 70 percent of Germany’s drinking water is obtained from groundwater.

Germany is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Combined with the unchecked dumping of hazardous substances in the past and the intensive use of groundwater and soil resources, this all amounts to a large amount of abandoned waste and many suspected areas of contamination. With around 296,500 suspected abandoned waste sites recorded in Germany in 2009, there is a considerable need to treat this waste. Abandoned waste can be found underground at many disused and still active industrial sites. Its detection and efficient remediation presents a real challenge.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) tackled this issue with new vigour as part of its “Research for sustainable development” programme, supporting selected research and development projects to solve the problem of abandoned waste. One of the aims of this is to develop pilot, transferable solution examples.

Cleaning directly in the groundwater

Treating the groundwater and soil “in situ”, i.e. making the hazardous substances harmless while still underground, is a promising approach. Be it the addition of nutrients, gas injection (project 1.1.08) or the introduction of micro-organisms – the range of in-situ procedures being (further) developed and tested by researchers and engineers in Germany is technically challenging and diverse. One advantage is the generally lower costs involved in on-site treatment. Unlike conventional methods, the contaminated groundwater and soil material does not need to be raised for treatment in plants above ground.

Groundwater remediation: a priority task

Germany places great value in developing efficient remediation procedures. There are numerous projects underway seeking to optimise these forms of technology in terms of practicality and transferability. Here are some examples of joint projects funded by the BMBF:

  • Under the KORA principle (retention and degradation processes to reduce contaminations in groundwater and soil), tests were undertaken to determine how and whether remediation of abandoned waste could be improved through natural cleaning processes, (projects 1.1.01 and 1.1.02).
  • The BMBF founded the RUBIN research programme (use of permeable treatment walls for site remediation) in May 2000 with the specific aim of developing in-situ treatment walls (projects 1.1.03, 1.1.05 and 1.1.06).
  • SAFIRA (remediation research in regionally contaminated aquifers). Also the name of the Bitterfeld-based major research facility conducting the work, SAFIRA began researching new technologies and methods in 1999 for the in-situ remediation of groundwater contaminated with complex hazardous compounds (project 1.1.07).
  • The BMBF and the state of Baden-Württemberg also provided funding to set up VEGAS (Versuchseinrichtung zur Grundwasser- und Altlastensanierung/ research facility for the remediation of groundwater and abandoned waste), the purpose of which is to develop innovative remediation methods that enable experiments to be performed under near-natural conditions (projects 1.1.09, 1.1.10, 1.1.11).
Ressource Wasser
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