The Dark Art Of Earthworks | Jobs Vox


Earthworks are often seen as a “dark art” of geotechnical engineering. But a better understanding of its fundamentals could lead to carbon sequestration on projects, argues Fiona Connor, senior geotechnical design engineer at Gavin & Doherty GeoSolutions.

A topic that I think has always been present in geotechnology, but perhaps hasn’t always been recognized for research, investment or its potential as a sustainable solution, is earthworks – specifically an earthworks. Used as a correction technique.

Of course, there are some challenges with regard to stabilization and finding alternative low carbon binders. However, the incorporation of binder or no binder, as well as stabilization or other ground improvement techniques such as prefabricated vertical drains and overburden, with the aim of reusing materials on site through re-engineering, can reduce the project’s carbon footprint. There is huge potential. and increased stability. These technologies can result in a reduction in imported aggregates and high embodied carbon materials such as steel and concrete, as well as a reduction in material being disposed offsite at landfills.

This may not be the most glamorous aspect of a project. It is often completed before the main construction works, and has historically been most common on linear infrastructure schemes or distribution yards.

However, both within the industry and at Gavin & Doherty GeoSolutions (GDG), we have observed an increasing trend of requests to explore designs that incorporate engineered materials for use as structural fill. These designs have the potential to reduce or eliminate the need for piling or controlled modulus columns for some projects.

It is my experience that effective customer, contractor and engineer communication is essential for this to be successful. Contractors need to buy into more adapted-to-the-application engineered fill, while clients need to be prepared to spend on testing to understand the importance and benefits for the longer term of the project. As engineers and consultants, we have to be prepared for the iterative design process behind site tests.

Earthworks is a part of geotechnical engineering sometimes seen as a “dark art”, as it sits between the specialist contractor and the civil. But for it to be truly successful, particularly as a solution for structural filling in buildings, it needs to change.

This need not be the case, as a full understanding of the fundamentals of soil mechanics, the use of on-site tests and laboratory testing enables a comprehensive evaluation of a proposed material to be used as a fill. This goes back to the engineer’s role in helping the client understand and communicate the fundamentals of earthquakes.

The early involvement of a geotechnical engineer in the plans is also important, as is consideration for the adoption of this solution, any site investigations to include specific tests for preliminary soil testing, and sufficient time in the construction programme. To enable inclusion. The ideal scenario includes the most durable and often comparatively low-cost option prior to the construction period.

A current barrier to progress is that many of the in-situ and laboratory tests used to validate materials placed are tailored for highway applications and some are out of date. Many of their origins date back to innovations adopted during WW2 based on the need to build runways faster.

The adoption of building plant and in-situ mapping and recording technology has seen huge improvements in recent years, driven by the adoption of building information models. I expect to see similar innovation in the development of standardized laboratory testing suitable for assessing the stabilization and wider application of re-engineering of fill materials.

High Speed ​​2 (HS2) is driving research as we speak. It has collaborated with various universities in regards to stabilizing and re-engineering materials such as chalk and marcia mudstone, and will provide a major step forward once published and accessible to industry. I am excited to see progress in this area.

Further research is needed on the effect of binders on consolidation properties, given the vast array of UK and Irish soil types, to produce better case studies and understanding of the long-term behaviors of traditional and new low carbon binder types. This enables designers to push the boundaries for applications in the use of these materials, creating leaner designs and reducing the need to import materials to a greater number of sites.

I look forward to GDG’s continued involvement in supporting the groundwork plans, resulting in optimized sustainability on a wide range of plans. This includes working closely with specialist contractors and clients to share our knowledge in this area, as well as keeping up to speed on the latest research and developments in this area.


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