Effect of Hydrogel Particle Additives on Water-Accessible Pore Structure of Sandy Soils: A Custom Pressure Plate Apparatus and Capillary Bundle Model
To probe the effects of hydrogel particle additives on the water-accessible pore structure of sandy soils, we introduce a custom pressure plate method in which the volume of water expelled from a wet granular packing is measured as a function of applied pressure. Using a capillary bundle model, we show that the differential change in retained water per pressure increment is directly related to the cumulative cross-sectional area distribution f (r) of the water-accessible pores with radii less than r. This is validated by measurements of water expelled from a model sandy soil composed of 2-mm-diameter glass beads. In particular, it is found that the expelled water is dramatically dependent on sample height and that analysis using the capillary bundle model gives the same pore size distribution for all samples. The distribution is found to be approximately log normal, and the total cross-sectional area fraction of the accessible pore space is found to be f0 = 0.34. We then report on how the pore distribution and total water-accessible area fraction are affected by superabsorbent hydrogel particle additives, uniformly mixed into a fixed-height sample at varying concentrations. Under both fixed volume and free swelling conditions, the total area fraction of water-accessible pore space in a packing decreases exponentially as the gel concentration increases. The size distribution of the pores is significantly modified by the swollen hydrogel particles, such that large pores are clogged while small pores are formed.