Skip to Content





Ground engineering is a critical part of the construction of all civil infrastructure, remediation of contaminated groundwater, mitigation against earthquakes and landslides, and the recovery of natural resources. For example, buildings and bridges are supported through foundations by the ground, tunnels are constructed in the ground, levees and damns are constructed of and on the ground, and natural resources are mined or pumped from the ground and their waste materials, such as mine tailings, are placed on the ground. Currently, almost all the methods used to engineer the ground use large amounts of energy and material, typically cement and concrete, and produce large amounts of greenhouse gasses. Natural biological processes can do many of the same things that engineers need to do, such as strengthen the soil through the action of bacteria facilitating the cementation of sand particles to make sandstone, utilizing significantly lower levels of energy and only the materials found naturally in the air and ground. The CBBG ERC will conduct basic research to understand biological processes that act in the ground, including the action of bacteria, plants and animals. The Center will develop ways to directly use naturally occurring bacteria to strengthen the soil, to mitigate against earthquake-induced liquefaction, and clean up polluted sites. It will also use methods inspired by biological processes to design more efficient tunneling processes, foundations and sensors that can penetrate the ground and travel to desired locations. The expected benefits of this research will be less costly construction of civil infrastructure with reduced energy and material use and less environmental degradation. The CBBG's Innovation Ecosystem will bring together the key industrial, regulatory and civil infrastructure stakeholders necessary to commercialize the Center's research discoveries and to maximize benefits to society. In addition the Center is committed to educating, preparing and inspiring a new generation of innovative biogeotechnical engineering students who will have the opportunity to train in a multi-discipline, team-based interdisciplinary research setting. By leveraging industrial partnerships and educating the workforce of the future the CBBG ERC will ensure that the United States leads the world in the rapidly developing field of biogeotechnics.

The ERC is led by Arizona State University, with partners at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of California, Davis, and New Mexico State University. Use of biological and bio-inspired processes will create a paradigm shift in the practice of geotechnical engineering from one that depends on energy and materials intensive solutions to one that minimizes the impact of its engineering solutions. Laboratory investigations have already shown the potential of utilizing naturally occurring bacteria to mitigate liquefaction through at least three different mechanisms, and to significantly reduce fugitive dust on dirt roads and construction sites. Research has also shown that tree roots are significantly more efficient at lateral wind load resistance than tower foundations, and ants are several orders of magnitude more efficient than humans in tunneling. The Center will conduct fundamental engineering, biological, chemical and engineering research to understand these biological processes. Using this knowledge, they will utilize Life Cycle Cost Analyses (LCCA) and Life Cycle Sustainability Analyses (LCSA) to identify with their industrial partners the most promising applications of this knowledge, and continue to evaluate these projects as they move to the field scale. Test beds will be used to demonstrate the viability of the Center?s research and provide realistic cost estimates to compare with current practice.


National Science Foundation, Division of Engineering Education and Centers


August 2015 — July 2020