Over its fourteen years, the Canadian Brownfields Conference has shifted its focus from soil remediation methods to brownfield redevelopment, highlighting the reuse of land as a key component of urban planning and creating vibrant communities. This change was echoed in all but one of the Canadian Urbanism Institute Brownie Award winners.
A rare International Brownie Award was presented to the Foundation for Soil Remediation at Dutch Railways (SBNS) for its innovative and sustainable technology that uses renewable energy produced on-site to remediate brownfields. This recognition demonstrates that even though developers and municipalities in Canada are concentrating on transforming brownfield lands into a vibrant part of the urban fabric, environmentally responsible remediation techniques need to remain part of the conversation.
Brownfields are lands that are polluted due to past use – such as from factories, gas stations, and dry cleaners – and require the removal of the contaminants before they can be redeveloped. In Canada, common interventions include excavating the soil and trucking it to a landfill, capping the soil to contain the contaminants on site, or bioremediating the soil to turn hazardous chemicals into less or non-toxic compounds. Of these, only bioremediation cleans the soils; however, the process can take several years and requires a large input of energy.
The SBNS, which remediates contaminated rail yards, created the In-Situ Soil Remediation/Green Remediation (SISSR) Project to tackle these challenges head on. Johan van Leeuwen and his team capitalized on the natural ability of bacteria to break down contaminants, such as oil. The SISSR creates an environment in which bacteria can be most productive: it warms the soil using solar heat, delivers liquid nutrients and compressed air from the wind turbine, and generates the electricity needed for the pumps through solar panels.
The SISSR pilot project took place in Bilthoven, Utrecht, on a brownfield site next to a busy railroad and has been very successful. “After two years, contamination had decreased almost to the level anticipated after five years,” van Leeuwen announced at the conference. It has also been found to be economically competitive with conventional remediation methods.
There is great potential for this technology. Since it generates its own energy on site, it can be used to remediate soil where access to electricity may be limited – landfills, rural locations, and oil spills.
The success and sustainable focus of this project is already getting Canadians thinking. “How big of an area can it remediate?” asked Michel Beaulieu, Expert Scientific Advisor at the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. Quebec is still dealing with the huge oil spill that happened on July 6th, 2013 when a train derailed in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, devastating the town. So far, the SISSR has only been used in the 120 square metre pilot project in Bilthoven, but with sustainability on our minds and the need to remediate brownfields, it is likely that this technology will soon take off.
What other innovative and sustainable projects are being developed to deal with brownfield remediation?
Credits: Images by Lindsay Vanstone and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.