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A Scottish research group seeks to develop ways of laying housing foundations on peatlands in an eco-friendly way.
The initiative may pave the path for further economic development in regions of the Highlands and Islands, while also minimizing disruption to the environment and captured carbon dioxide.
The team intends to explore a range of construction techniques, such as deep-soil mixing and piling, which allow the peat to remain in place.
The research consortium includes Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University, working with the support of the Highland Council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), and Jahama Highland Estates. The initiative is also supported by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Nature Scot, EcoSystems Tech, and the Scottish Government.
Peatlands consist of dead plant material and carbon captured in its remains. Nearly 20% of Scottish land is covered with peat soil which serves to store over 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of a total of 140 years of greenhouse gas emissions for Scotland. However, due to its low strength, landslide risks, and tendency to deform under load, the soil is often unfit for construction.
In some parts of the Highlands and Island, new housing is not available and the presence of peat can complicate some of the housing sites designated for development, said CSIC. Implementing viable and sustainable methods to build on peatlands that are in line with ongoing restoration work could transform Scotland's approach to rural housing; good quality, affordable homes can help to reverse population loss and boost economic growth in rural areas.
Earlier, the construction teams used to rely on excavate-and-replace techniques. This project, however, will explore a number of options, including soil-mixing and piling, which allow for the retention of peat and stored carbon. For foundations, timber piling would use tree trunks or long poles of wood. Disturbance of the peatlands, in particular the presence of groundwater, would be minimized if the peat is to continue to accumulate, CSIC stated.
The objective of the first stage of this project is to evaluate and compare the geotechnical suitability, environmental impact, logistics, and cost impacts of the various approaches. In the second stage, live field trials are planned to evaluate the suitability of the solutions proposed.