Unexpected application for hard-rock recipe
Most people imagine that it takes millions of years to form sedimentary rock. That is certainly the impression we are given in our culture today. And because of that impression, many people dismiss the claims of the Bible, which describes Creation in six Earth-rotation days some 6,000 years ago.
However, some Australian scientists have developed a revolutionary new chemical process that transforms loose sediment into rock within days.1,2 The invention does not use strange, synthetic materials, but mimics natural processes. Some may find it hard to believe, but it’s true. Contrary to the general impression, it does not take millions of years to produce sedimentary rock. All it takes are the right conditions.
What is sedimentary rock?
Sedimentary rock, such as sandstone, is composed of grains of material held together with cement. The grains may be fragments of other rock, or minerals such as quartz or calcite.3 The fragments may be minuscule, like mud, or larger like sand, pebbles or even boulders. The rock may be composed of particles of similar size (‘well sorted’) or a mixture of sizes (‘poorly sorted’). Technically the particles are called clasts and the rocks are clastic rocks.
Except for fine-grained rocks like mudstone, clastic rocks are usually porous. The spaces or pores between the grains can store pore fluid such as water, which can move through the rock. Oil, gas and water are stored underground like this.
In natural rocks, many minerals can cement the grains together. Common cements include calcite, quartz, or minerals of iron. Different cements produce rocks with different strengths and different colours. For example, iron minerals produce red rocks.
Sometimes the sediment is well cemented, making a hard, uniform rock, prized for building stone, e.g. Hawkesbury Sandstone around Sydney. Sometimes the cement is uneven and the quality of the rock is variable—hard in places and crumbly in others. Occasionally the cement is confined to small pockets and forms concretions with unusual shapes.
When a rock is poorly cemented, engineers find that building foundations subside and embankments collapse. An obvious way of improving the strength of the foundations would be to increase the amount of cement in the rock. This is how the new rapid-rock invention works.
The new invention is simple to use. All that is needed is to spray two solutions onto the porous sand, soil or rock. The water-based solutions seep into the material, replacing the existing pore fluid. Alternatively, the solutions can be injected into the material. Because the solutions flow easily, like water, the sediment is quickly penetrated. And being entirely non-toxic, the solutions do not pose a health or environmental hazard.
Once inside the pores, the chemicals react to form calcite crystals on the surface of each grain of sediment. The calcite cements the grains together and gives the sediment rock-like strength. The speed of the reaction can be controlled from one to seven days to allow the solution to penetrate into the sediment as far as desired.
Because the cement only covers the grain surface, the spaces between the grains remain open. Thus the porosity of the rock is only slightly reduced and the flow of groundwater is not obstructed. This means that the solutions can be applied a number of times to the same sediment and continue to penetrate the pore spaces, adding extra cement each time. The sediment could be converted into almost-solid rock with the pores mostly filled, but this would take many applications and a few months to achieve. Ordinary water will not soften calcite, so the cement bonds should remain strong indefinitely.2
Lots of applications
The rapid-rock invention has many practical uses, including strengthening weak foundations, stabilizing embankments and strengthening tunnels. One of the first projects was to repair a historic tunnel in Western Australia that was dangerous and closed to the public. After only three applications, the tunnel was strengthened, and the method saved lots of money.
Chemical solutions penetrate the pore spaces and react to form calcite crystals on grain surfaces. When cemented, the sediment is rock hard. The process mimics how sedimentary rock forms in nature.
Repeated applications result in further build-up of calcite cement around grains. The Calcite In-situ Precipitation System (CIPS) mimics natural crystallization around particles, which improves stability.
The London Underground has tested the method for stabilizing some of its embankments with the big advantage that the materials can be strengthened in situ. The process could also be used to preserve historic monuments.
‘Don’t tell the creationists’
One unexpected application of this research is that it dramatically demonstrates the fact that rocks do not need millions of years to form. Certainly, for one of the inventors, this application came as a shock.
When CMI-Australia first heard about this invention, we wrote to Dr Ed Kucharski for details. However, we didn’t receive a reply and assumed that he was no longer working on the project or that we had the wrong email address.
Imagine our surprise when we read an article published in the UK about the process, where Dr Kucharski was reported to have said, ‘We had some enquiries which appeared strange. When I looked into them, I realised that they were from a group of creationists trying to disprove Darwin’s theory of evolution. I didn’t call them back.’4 Obviously, that was our inquiry.
CMI seeks to dispel the popular misconceptions that prevent people considering the Creator God of the Bible. One powerful misconception is that rocks take millions of years to form. This claim is not true. The new research vividly demonstrates that, with appropriate conditions, rocks can form very quickly.
The global Flood is the key. Floodwaters flowing over the Earth during that cataclysm dumped the huge deposits of sediment. And the same floodwaters contained the dissolved chemicals that quickly cemented the sediment into rock. Australia’s rapid-rock invention powerfully demonstrates how sedimentary rocks could have easily formed well within the 6,000-year timescale described in the Bible.
References and notes
- Kucharski, E., Price, G., Li, H. and Joer, H.A., Laboratory evaluation of CIPS cemented calcareous and silica sands, Proceedings of the 7 th Australia New Zealand Conference on Geomechanics, South Australia, pp. 102–107, 1996. Return to text.
- Kucharski, E., Price, G., Li, H. and Joer, H., Engineering properties of sands cemented using the calcite in situ precipitation system (CIPS), Exploration and Mining Research News7:12–14, January 1997. Return to text.
- Calcite (CaCO 3) crystals have a distinctive prismatic shape and can be scratched with a knife. Quartz (SiO2) is harder than a knife. Coral and shells are made of calcite, as are most of the stalactites and stalagmites in caves. Usually calcite is colourless or white, but it can also be yellow, pink, brown or green. Return to text.
- Thompson, P., Scientists’ spray has proven rock steady, Construction News 6737:36, 11 October 2001. Return to text.