Earth constructions are the remains of human history and culture in a certain environment, which is scientific, historic, artistic and non-renewable. However, a site with silty soil as the main material, because of its special grading characteristics, often has the characteristics of poor stability of the granular skeleton structure, developed capillary pores and strong water sensitivity, so the influence of capillary water on the silt buildings is particularly remarkable [1
]. Usually, the height of capillary rise in the silt can reach 0.5–1.5 m, or even more than 4 m [3
]. The moisture content, strength, soluble salt content and microstructure of the soil under the long-term action of the capillary water are all seriously affected, which leads to a decrease in the structural stability and weakening of the foundation [8
]. Therefore, it is necessary to study methods to control capillary rise in the silt sites.
In recent years, many researchers have improved silt by weakening the capillary rise of the silt. Raw materials such as glutinous rice flour, straw and tung oil were widely applied from the beginning of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (about 420 BC), which obviously changes the impermeability of a building, especially the impermeability of earthen buildings [12
]; the conventional materials such as cement, fiber-cement, recycled bassanite and the like have also often been applied to improve the soil, and the improved silt is improved not only in strength, but also impermeability, and the rising height of capillary water is also decreased [14
]. As a new type of material, high-molecular-weight polymer is also often applied to the modification of the silt, in which the detergents, polyalicyclic amine and simplot and the like have been proved to be effective [17
]. However, earth constructions are not ordinary buildings—they are artistic, scientific, and historic, and cultural relics or cultural heritage is their primary attribute, so it is not suitable to apply the modified methods in the general construction process directly to the earth sites [21
In order to suppress the capillary rise of the building body, many researchers have used some surfactants in building protection. Potassium methyl silicate showed obvious effects in the tests of inhibiting the hydration swelling and pulp making of mud shale. This prevented water from entering the shale by a hydrophobic membrane formed by organosilicate and the adsorption of potassium ions [22
]. Sodium methyl silicate (SMS) also performed well in inhibiting the strength and water absorption of concrete. The test results showed that the microstructure of the sample with added sodium methyl silicate was more dense, and insoluble crystals in various shapes were inserted into the crack of concrete; this fully clogged the pores and cracks of the concrete, thus improving the macroscopic properties of concrete, including its waterproofing and impermeability [24
]. Aiming to address the problem of high moisture absorption of microwave-hardened waterglass sand, some researchers have improved this moisture absorption by using sodium methyl silicate [27
]. Sodium methyl silicate has also been applied to improve sand in yellow-flooding areas, and it was confirmed that the mechanical properties and the impermeability of the sand can be obviously improved by sodium methyl silicate, as shown by the compaction testing, the strength testing, and permeability testing [29
Existing research verifies the good effect of SMS on inhibiting the water absorption of concrete, water glass, and other materials, and has a preliminary discussion about the mechanism. However, the use of SMS in the inhibition of capillary water in silt-based sites is rare, and study of the mechanism is insufficient. In order to verify the effect of SMS on capillary water absorption and provide a feasible method for the treatment of capillary water diseases, in this article we investigated the improvement effect of SMS on silt by a capillary water rise experiment and contact angle measurement, and we studied the inhibition mechanism by X-ray diffraction (XRD) testing, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing, scanning electron microscope (SEM) testing, and mercury intrusion porosimetry (MIP) testing.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Materials and Sample Preparation
Zhengzhou Shang city is the ruins of the capital city the Shang Dynasty (about 1600 BC–1046 BC), located in Guancheng District, Zhengzhou, China. Zhengzhou Shang city is 25 square kilometers and is the largest capital city ruins after the Yin Ruins in the Shang Dynasty. It is of great value for studying the history of the Shang Dynasty and the history of ancient city development. The materials used in the tests were taken from the site of Zhengzhou Shang city, and the soil samples were taken as brownish-yellow silt between 0 and 20 cm from the surface of the ground. Soil samples were taken to the laboratory, and their physical properties were analyzed according to the Highway Geotechnical Test Code (JTG E40-2007) [30
]. The results are shown in Table 1
. After removing the obvious debris from the soil, the soil was ground and passed through a 2 mm sieve; then we took the required amount of soil samples after screening and dried them in an oven at 105 °C for 12 h to make pretreated dry silt.
According to the test results based on previous preliminary tests and references, the proportions of SMS (g)/dry silt (g) were initially selected as 0%, 0.15%, 0.2%, 0.3%, 0.4%, and 0.5%, and we numbered them sequentially as Sample 0, Sample 1, Sample 2, Sample 3, Sample 4, Sample 5 [22
]. In order to avoid affecting the test results due to different moisture content, the moisture contents of all samples were controlled at 10%, that is, each sample contained 2 kg of dry silt and 0.05 kg of water.
Taking the preparation of Sample 1 as an example, the preparation process can be summarized as follows: first, weigh 2 kg of dry soil, 0.05 kg of water and 3 g of SMS into different containers; secondly, add 0.05 kg of water to the SMS container in small quantities many times, and slowly stir the samples using a glass rod; finally, slowly add the SMS solution to the dry soil, stir the soil thoroughly and place it in a sealed bag for 12 h, so that the solution is evenly distributed throughout the soil. The layered compaction method was used to pour into the capillary water pipe for sample preparation.
2.2. Capillary Water Rise Testing
In order to study the effectiveness of SMS in inhibiting silt capillary water absorption, the above six soil samples were subjected to capillary water rise testing in turn. The specific test equipment and test steps were in accordance with the “Highway Geotechnical Test Code” JTGE40-2007 [30
], and we measured the capillary water rising height after the opening of the lock until the rise was stable. Because the maximum height of the test tube was 100 cm, measurements were stopped when they reached 100 cm.
2.3. Contact Angle Measurement
The contact angle is the angle, conventionally measured through the liquid, where a liquid–vapor interface meets a solid surface, and it is written as . This value can accurately quantify the degree of soil surface wetting. We observed the water repellency by dropping water first, then used a contact angle instrument to measure the contact angle.
2.4. X-ray Diffraction (XRD) and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) Testing
XRD (D8 ADVANCE, Brooke, Germany) can determine the main phase of the sample, and XRF can determine the constituent elements of the sample. By combining the results of XRD and XRF, the composition and elements of soil before and after adding SMS can be discussed.
2.5. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) Testing
The principle of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) (Quanta 650, Portland, OR, USA) is to scan a sample with a high-energy electron beam to produce a variety of physical information. By receiving, magnifying and displaying this information, the contact relationship between particles and pores can be reflected directly [31
]. In order to study the improvement mechanism of SMS from the perspective of microstructure and morphology, it was necessary to observe the microstructure of soil samples before and after adding SMS solution.
2.6. Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP) Testing
MIP testing can measure the pore size from hundreds of microns to several nanometers, and the equivalent volume of pores can be evaluated by measuring the quantity of mercury entering pores under different external pressure, which can accurately quantify the internal pore morphology of porous materials. MIP has been widely used in different fields [33
]. We used MIP in order to better study the mechanism by which methyl sodium silicate inhibits silt capillary water absorption, especially the optimization of the pore distribution.
As the SMS content increased, the maximum height of capillary rise gradually decreased from 121.2 cm to 0 cm, verifying the good effect of SMS in inhibiting the capillary water rise. Contact angle exceeded 120°, proving that the soil has good water repellency. From the combined XRD results, SEM images, and MIP results, it can be seen that after entering the soil, SMS solution was evenly dispersed with water and penetrated into the porous surfaces to form a waterproof and breathable polymethylsiloxane membrane on the surface of silty particles. The membrane had two effects on silt particles: it enclosed silt particles, and it bound adjacent silt particles together.
SMS can effectively suppress the absorption of capillary water without changing the appearance of the soil or reacting with the soil; therefore, the treatment of capillary water disease in silty sites can be achieved by using SMS added to silt as a repair material or by applying SMS solution on the site surface. The results of this study can provide an engineering basis for the treatment of capillary water disease in silty soil sites, given the insufficient existing data on the treatment of capillary water diseases.