Mechanical and Chemical Behaviour of Water Treatment Sludge and Soft Soil Mixtures for Liner Production

Leonardo Marchiori1, 2, 3, André Studart1, 2, 3, Antonio Albuquerque1, 2, 3, *, Luis Andrade Pais1, 2, 3, Maria Eugênia Boscov4, Victor Cavaleiro1, 2, 3
1 Civil Engineering and Architecture Department, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal
2 Geobiotec, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal
3 FibEnTech, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal
4 Structural and Geotechnical Engineering Department, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

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© 2022 Marchiori et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Civil Engineering and Architecture Department, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal; E-mail:



Clay-based and geosynthetic liners are generally used as hydraulic barriers in solid waste disposal facilities, mining tailing ponds, and soil-based wastewater treatment technologies, avoiding the leaching of hazardous compounds into subsoil and groundwater. Water treatment sludge (WTS) is a water treatment plant (WTP) residue which due to hydraulic properties seems to decrease the permeability in WTS:soil mixtures and may become an alternative material to produce sustainable waste-based liners.


This research aims to characterize and analyse physical, chemical and mechanical parameters of a WTS, a soft soil and four mixtures WTS:soil following 05:95%, 10:90%, 15:85%, 20:80% ratios, Thereby, evaluating the best ratio for producing waste-based liners for civil engineering applications.


The geotechnical characterization was performed for particle size distribution, specific surface, specific gravity, Atterberg limits, and Normal Proctor compaction; chemical composition due to oxides analyses through X-ray fluorescence (XRF), mineralogical description by X-ray diffraction (XRD) and scanning electron microscope (SEM) with energy dispersive spectrometer (EDS) coupled for imaging; and mechanical behavior performing - –oedometric consolidation, consolidated undrained (CU) triaxial, and falling head permeability. Tests were conducted for all mixtures, the soil, and WTS, with pointed-out exceptions.

Results and Discussion:

The results showed that the fine-grained WTS filled the soil voids but rearranged soil particles, thus, compacted dry unit weight decreased with WTS addition, probably due to its chemical composition with high amounts of aluminium and silica. The compressibility of the compacted mixtures did not differ significantly compared to the soil, while the shear strength analysis demonstrated a reduction in cohesion and an increase in the effective internal friction angle proportional to WTS addition. Hydraulic conductivity increased with WTS until 10% of residue introduction, decreased for 15%, and continued to decrease for 20%, reaching optimum permeability at 15%.


The incorporation of WTS can improve or just not interfere with soil’s properties to be used as liner material in solid wastes storage facilities, mining ponds and soil-based wastewater treatment technologies. Furthermore, 15% of WTS (15:85% mixture) incorporation provided the best results meeting the hydraulic conductivity requirement for liner materials, i.e., equal, or lower than 10-9 m/s. The reuse of WTS for this purpose would allow producing a new added-value material in the scope of circular economy.

Keywords: Water treatment sludge, Waste valorization, Waste-based liner material, Impermeable material, Earthworks, Soft soil.