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Bentonite in Geotechnical Engineering: Properties, Applications, and Case Studies

Bentonite in Geotechnical Engineering: Properties, Applications, and Case Studies.


In the field of geotechnical engineering, Bentonite plays a crucial role in various construction projects. Its unique properties and versatile applications make it a preferred choice for professionals in the industry. In this article, we will delve into the geotechnical properties and applications of Bentonite, explore its role as a lubricant and stabilizer in tunnelling and excavation, discuss the recommended specifications for Bentonite slurry used in diaphragm walls, and showcase successful case studies highlighting its effectiveness in geotechnical projects.

Geotechnical Properties and Applications of Bentonite

Bentonite is a naturally occurring clay mineral known for its exceptional swelling and absorption capabilities. It is formed from the weathering of volcanic ash and contains high percentages of montmorillonite, a type of smectite clay. This unique composition gives Bentonite its remarkable plasticity, thixotropic behavior, and ability to retain water.

In geotechnical engineering, Bentonite is widely used due to its advantageous properties. Some key geotechnical properties of Bentonite include:

1. Swelling Capacity

Bentonite has an impressive swelling capacity when hydrated. It can absorb several times its dry volume in water, transforming into a gel-like substance. This property makes Bentonite ideal for applications such as sealing, groundwater control, and stabilizing excavations.

2. Plasticity and Thixotropy

The plasticity of Bentonite allows it to be easily molded into desired shapes. It can form impermeable barriers when used in cutoff walls, dams, and containment systems. Moreover, Bentonite exhibits thixotropic behavior, meaning it becomes fluid when agitated and returns to a gel-like state when left undisturbed. This quality is advantageous in drilling operations and other dynamic construction processes.

3. Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC)

Bentonite possesses a high cation exchange capacity, which refers to its ability to attract and hold cations. This property makes it effective in stabilizing soil, as it can replace unstable ions with more stable ones, enhancing the engineering properties of the soil matrix.

Applications of Bentonite in Engineering Projects

The unique properties of Bentonite make it a valuable component in numerous geotechnical applications. Some common applications include:

1. Sealing and Waterproofing

Bentonite is widely used for sealing and waterproofing purposes. It forms an impermeable barrier when hydrated, preventing the passage of water or other fluids. This quality makes Bentonite an excellent choice for applications such as landfill liners, pond liners, and underground storage facilities.

2. Tunneling and Excavation

In tunnelling and excavation projects, Bentonite serves as a lubricant and stabilizer. It reduces friction between the soil and the tunneling equipment, allowing for smoother excavation processes. Additionally, Bentonite slurries can stabilize the surrounding soil, preventing collapse or subsidence during excavation.

3. Diaphragm Walls and Retaining Structures

Bentonite slurry is commonly used in the construction of diaphragm walls and other retaining structures. It provides support and stability, allowing for the excavation of deep trenches. The thixotropic nature of Bentonite slurry ensures that it maintains its integrity during the construction process, providing a reliable barrier against groundwater inflow.

Recommended Specifications for Bentonite Slurry in Diaphragm Walls

Diaphragm walls play a vital role in underground construction projects, and Bentonite slurry is often used in their construction. Here are some recommended specifications for Bentonite slurry in diaphragm walls:

1. Bentonite Properties

The Bentonite used in slurry should conform to specific properties to ensure optimal performance. It should have a high swelling capacity, low viscosity, and a suitable plasticity index. The moisture content and filter loss of Bentonite should be within specified limits to maintain the desired characteristics of the slurry.

2. Slurry Density

The density of the Bentonite slurry is crucial for stability and excavation purposes. It should be tailored to the specific requirements of the project, taking into account factors such as groundwater conditions and the depth of the excavation. The density can be adjusted by adding additives or water to achieve the desired level.

3. Hydraulic Conductivity

The hydraulic conductivity of the Bentonite slurry is an important factor in diaphragm wall construction. It should have a low permeability to prevent the passage of water or other fluids. The hydraulic conductivity can be influenced by the Bentonite concentration, soil composition, and the presence of any additional additives.

Case Studies: Successful Bentonite Applications in Geotechnical Projects

Numerous case studies demonstrate the successful application of Bentonite in geotechnical projects worldwide. Here are a few noteworthy examples:

1. Deep Excavation Support

In a large-scale deep excavation project in a metropolitan area, Bentonite slurry was used to stabilize the surrounding soil. The thixotropic properties of the slurry provided excellent support, ensuring the stability of adjacent structures and preventing groundwater seepage during excavation.

2. Tunnelling under Challenging Conditions

In a tunnelling project through heterogeneous soil strata, Bentonite lubrication played a critical role. By reducing friction, the Bentonite lubricant facilitated the advancement of the tunnel boring machine and minimized wear and tear. This significantly improved the efficiency of the tunnelling operation.

3. Landfill Sealing System

In the construction of a landfill, Bentonite-based sealing systems were implemented to prevent the migration of leachate into the surrounding environment. The high swelling capacity and impermeability of Bentonite provided an effective barrier, ensuring environmental protection and the long-term integrity of the landfill structure.


Bentonite is an invaluable material in the geotechnical engineering industry, offering a wide range of properties and applications. Its ability to swell, retain water, and stabilize soil makes it an excellent choice for sealing, waterproofing, tunnelling, and retaining structures. By adhering to recommended specifications, professionals can harness the full potential of Bentonite in their projects. The successful case studies further reinforce its effectiveness and reliability.


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