Silica sol as grouting material: a physio-chemical analysis
At present there is a pressing need to find an environmentally friendly grouting material for the construction of tunnels. Silica nanoparticles hold great potential of replacing the organic molecule based grouting materials currently used for this purpose. Chemically, silica nanoparticles are similar to natural silicates which are essential components of rocks and soil. Moreover, suspensions of silica nanoparticles of different sizes and desired reactivity are commercially available. However, the use of silica nanoparticles as grouting material is at an early stage of its technological development. There are some critical parameters such as long term stability and functionality of grouted silica that need to be investigated in detail before silica nanoparticles can be considered as a reliable grouting material. In this review article we present the state of the art regarding the chemical properties of silica nanoparticles commercially available, as well as experience gained from the use of silica as grouting material. We give a detailed description of the mechanisms underlying the gelling of silica by different salt solutions such as NaCl and KCl and how factors such as particle size, pH, and temperature affect the gelling and gel strength development. Our focus in this review is on linking the chemical properties of silica nanoparticles to the mechanical properties to better understand their functionality and stability as grouting material. Along the way we point out areas which need further research.