ROBUST:Regeneration Of Brownfield Using Sustainable Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Engineering and Computing Sciences


ROBUST stands for Regeneration Of Brownfield Using Sustainable Technologies. 'Brownfield' is land which has been previously developed, sometimes for industrial purposes, as opposed to 'greenfield' which has never been developed. Brownfield land is sometimes contaminated with industrial pollutants. The majority of new buildings in the 21st Century will be built on brownfield land as the Government is trying to preserve greenfield land. Many brownfield sites require the removal of industrial pollutants (remediation) before they can be redeveloped. Low-value (in commercial terms) brownfield land is often of less interest to property developers and only marginally polluted but these sites are often situated in the heart of communities and provide people's nearest countryside. For this reason, they may have a significant impact on people's health and wellbeing. ROBUST will engage with local communities to reclaim and remediate these low-value brownfield sites with the aim of improving the local environment and enhancing wellbeing.The sustainable technologies in ROBUST involve using 'waste' products from industry. The 'wastes' are actually valuable minerals which have excellent soil remediation properties; these minerals such as manganese oxide are already naturally present in soil and form a large part of the soil's natural defence system against man-made industrial pollution. These minerals will be added to the soil on brownfield land and will help transform organic contaminants such as petrol into harmless byproducts and immobilise any metal contaminants deep within the ground. Using 'waste' products means sending less to landfill and extracting smaller quantities of primary aggregates all of which makes our Society more sustainable.ROBUST will also develop a new piece of field equipment for quicker and safer data collection on contaminants at brownfield sites. We will be using the newly discovered far-infrared terahertz radiation to 'see' contaminants on site. This radiation is completely safe and has wavelengths just beyond visible light. Unlike other forms of radiation (such as ultraviolet radiation) terahertz is very good at identifying contaminants without any interference effects from the background soil. Not only will the new device revolutionise site investigation work, thereby saving the contaminated land industry hundreds of thousands of pounds (by reducing uncertainty about where to drill boreholes and where to remediate) but it will also allow a vast improvement in our understanding of how contaminants interact with minerals in soil. We are particularly interested in how brownfield land remediation technologies will react to various climate change scenarios such as flooding.Pilot studies of the sustainable technologies will be carried out in large Perspex cubic containers where the public will be able to observe a cross-section of the brownfield land (both the soil and the vegetated surface e.g. grass). Leachate generated by rain passing through the soil will tell us about how contaminants move within the soil. The improved data collection provided by the new terahertz field equipment will provide sufficient information to carry out detailed computer modelling of how the contaminants in the soil interact with the remediative mineral. The computer model will help to reduce uncertainty about both public and environmental health risks associated with brownfield regeneration as well as understand how the remediated soil will be affected by events such as flooding which are now happening more often due to climate change.ROBUST aims to work with local communities in a two-way exchange of information. Local communities often hold large quantities of information on brownfield land and can help engineers to understand what and where pollutants might be on site. Local communities can also help engineers understand their perceptions of the site and their ambitions for what end-use they envisage for the site.


10 25 50
Title Art exhibitions 
Description artworks made during Leverhulme Artist in Residency 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The artist in residency helped improve the culture of the school. Also Stephen the artist attended my workshops on soil health (he works with soil minerals in his art) and helped the interdisciplinary cohort bond. 
Description We have designed community friendly sustainable technologies for greening brownfield land. We have also produced another animation on soil health and flooding where we engage with local primary schoolkids:
Exploitation Route We have submitted evidence to two Govmt Select Committees (Environmental Audit Select Committee), Environmental Scorecard published Sept 2014 (quoted on P.40) and Climate Change Adapation (not yet published). We have produced an animation on the ROBUST methodology at:
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description We have submitted four lots of evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees on issues such as soil security and climate change adaptation, one of which has resulted in our work being quoted in a published Govmt report (Environmental Scorecard Report, Envtal Audit Committee, Sept 2014). We have also run a workshop (Oct 2014) on soil in Westminster which was well attended and are writing up a policy brief document about urban soil security from this. All of this policy work has allowed us to organise a Panel Debate on Soil Health in Parliament (Dec 2015) which culminated in the Uk's first ever Inquiry into Soil Health (report due out hopefully with some of our recommendations in Spring 2016).
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Description Policy work with Government including launch of Govt Soil Health Inquiry 
Organisation Government of the UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Myself and Jenny Jeffes at Durham University have made 4 depositions of evidence to the Govmt's Environmental Audit Committee. Building up relations with the two last Chairs of this Select Committee we were able to organise a Panel Debate on Soil Health in Parliament at which the Uk's first inquiry into Soil Health was launched. I also gave oral and written evidence at this Inquiry in summer 2016.
Collaborator Contribution Deposition of evidence to inquiries
Impact We wrote a Policy Briefing on Soil Health
Start Year 2014
Description Research trip to Oregon Health and Science University 
Organisation Oregon Health and Science University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We (myself and Prof Tebo from OHSU) are writing two papers together and have shared beamline time at Stanford Synchotron Radiation Lab
Collaborator Contribution Sharing of research ideas
Impact Multi-disciplinary - microbiology (Tebo) and environmental engineering (me). Two papers are listed under publications in prepn.
Start Year 2013
Description A nation that destroys itself 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 2 workshops on soil health. One in Westminster (ICE, George street) and one in Durham (Castle). These two events led to me hosting a Panel Debate in Parliament on Soil health (2nd Dec 2015) and to the launch of first ever inquiry into soil health launched by CHair of Government Environemtnal Audit Committee
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
Description Soil animation for public engagement and various podcasts ( 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We are trying to promote the ROBUST methodology for regenerating land and have produced a video to help us. It is early days. The CL:AIRE Bulletin we are producing will help us with this. We have had people contact us about using the ROBUST methodology and have plans to get the animation out into Schools to spread the word about soil health and community. We have also organised a debate where members of public were involved. Deatils on the website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016