The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Thermal Desorption - Advantages

Time Effective

One major advantage of thermal desorption is that it can be extremely fast. Depending on soil and contaminant conditions, throughputs between 20 and 160 tons/hour have been achievable (NFESC, 1998b). Because of the speed achievable by thermal desorption, it is often used for time sensitive projects.


Cost Competitive for Large Volumes

As Table 2 shows, the cost per ton for a small site is much higher than that for a large site, but for any site above 1000 cubic yards thermal desorption is more cost effective than many other remediation strategies. Taking the density of typical soil as 1.2 ton/cubic yard, thermal desorption is more cost effective for sites requiring treatment of more than 1200 tons, which results in a unit cost of about $70/ton for petroleum-contaminated soils (NFESC, 1998a).


Table 2: Cost Comparison Data for Different Project Sizes (NFESC, 1998a)



Use in Remediating “Hot Spot” Sources

Thermal desorption is also used to remediate sites that have not been extensively contaminated. Thermal desorption requires excavation to treat the soil, so treatment of small extensively contaminated areas is possible, whereas other treatment systems cannot treat such small volumes of soil. This is often utilized in gasoline spills where the gasoline has not had a chance to migrate through the soil (EPA, 2001).



Thermal desorption is one of the more versatile treatment methods because it can be implemented either on site or off site. For large projects it is often desirable to use an onsite treatment system to cut down on transportation costs, but for small projects it is often not cost effective to invest the capital needed to have an on site thermal desorption unit.  Small projects that do not use on site treatment methods require transportation costs, but these transportation costs are often much lower than using on site treatment.


Soil Recyclability

Thermal desorption is often used in cases where the soil is to be reused after treatment. Thermal desorption is an ideal system for such projects because the treatment occurs onsite, and does not change the physical characteristics of the soil. Thermal desorption may require watering after treatment because the moisture present in the soil before treatment will be removed, but the soil is otherwise the same in the case of low temperature thermal desorption.


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