Smoldering combustion, commercially available as the Self-sustaining Treatment for Active Remediation (STAR) technology, is an innovative technique that has shown promise for the remediation of contaminant source zones.
Smoldering combustion is an exothermic reaction (net energy producing) converting carbon compounds and an oxidant (e.g., oxygen in air) to carbon dioxide, water, and energy. Thus, following ignition, the smoldering combustion reaction can continue in a self-sustaining manner (i.e., no external energy or added fuel input following ignition) as the heat generated by the reacting contaminants is used to preheat and initiate combustion of contaminants in adjacent areas, propagating a combustion front through the contaminated zone provided a sufficient flux of air is supplied. The STAR technology has applicability across a wide-range of hydrocarbons in a variety of hydrogeologic settings; however, there are limitations to its use. Impacted soils must be permeable enough to allow a sufficient flux of air to the combustion front and there exists a minimum required concentration of contaminants such that the soils contain sufficient fuel for the reaction to proceed in a self-sustaining manner. Further limitations, as well as lessons learned and methods to mitigate these limitations, are presented through a series of case studies. In summary, the successful implementation of STAR will result in >99 percent reduction in contaminant concentrations in treated areas, limited residual contaminant mass, reduced groundwater contaminant mass flux which can be addressed through monitored natural attenuation; and an enhanced site exit strategy, reduced lifecycle costs, and reduced risk.