Nelson Bustamante: How to Improve Soil Properties

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Soil improvement, in its broadest sense, encompasses the alteration of any property of soil to enhance its engineering performance. This can include strengthening its structural integrity, reducing compressibility, mitigating permeability, or improving groundwater conditions. Soil improvement can be either a temporary process to facilitate the construction of a facility or a permanent measure to enhance the long-term performance of the completed structure. In this comprehensive discussion, we will delve into various techniques employed for soil improvement.

Techniques of Soil Improvement

There exists a wide array of techniques for soil improvement, each tailored to specific construction activities and soil types. The primary methods of soil improvement include:

1. Surface Compaction

Surface compaction stands as one of the earliest and simplest methods for soil densification. When constructing roads, runways, embankments, or addressing soft and loose soil conditions, achieving a compacted base is imperative. Surface compaction can effectively address shallower depth requirements for densification. Common tools used for surface compaction include rollers, tampers, and rammers. A variety of conventional rollers, including smooth wheel, rubber-tyred, sheep foot, vibratory, and grid rollers, are at the disposal of engineers and construction professionals.

Plate Compactor
Fig 1: Plate Compactor
Jack Jumping Rammer
Fig 2 : Jack Jumping Rammer

2. Drainage Methods

Effective groundwater management is crucial in excavation work, as excessive water presence can elevate pore water pressure and compromise shear strength. Moreover, the inflow of water into excavations can lead to erosion or the collapse of excavation walls. Several drainage methods are available to control groundwater and ensure the safe and economical execution of construction projects. These methods encompass Well-point Systems, Deep-well Drainage, Vacuum Dewatering Systems, and Dewatering by Electro-osmosis, among others.

 Vacuum Dewatering system
Fig 3: Vacuum Dewatering system

3. Vibration Methods

Vibration methods are highly effective for rapidly densifying saturated, non-cohesive soils. Vibrations and shock waves applied to loose deposits of such materials can trigger liquefaction followed by densification, leading to the dissipation of excess pore water pressures. Commonly adopted vibration methods include blasting, vibrating probes, vibratory rollers, Vibro-displacement Compaction Piles, Vibrofloatation, and heavy tamping.

Fig 4: Vibroflotation

4. Pre-Compression and Consolidation

Pre-compression and consolidation techniques aim to consolidate the soil prior to construction. Various approaches within this category include Preloading and Surcharge Fills, Vertical Drains, Dynamic Consolidation, and Electro-osmotic Consolidation.

Dynamic Consolidation
Fig 5: Dynamic Consolidation

5. Grouting and Injection

Grouting is a process in which stabilizers, typically in the form of suspensions or solutions, are injected into subsurface soil or rock for a variety of applications. These applications encompass controlling groundwater during construction, preventing excessive settlement through void filling, strengthening adjacent foundation soils against damage during excavation or pile driving, reducing lateral support requirements, stabilizing loose sands against liquefaction, foundation underpinning, and mitigating machine foundation vibrations. Grouting can be carried out using Suspension Grouts, which include grouting with soil, soil-cement mixes, cement, lime, displacement grouting, or Solution Grouts, utilizing “one shot” or “two shot” systems.

Soil Grouting
Fig 6: Soil Grouting

6. Chemical Stabilization

Chemical stabilization is widely employed using substances such as lime, cement, fly ash, and combinations thereof to enhance soil stability. This approach reduces soil permeability, enhances shear strength, increases bearing capacity, diminishes settlement, and expedites construction. Chemical stabilization is particularly successful for surface soils and involves the mechanical mixing of soils and chemicals in place or through batch processes. Chemicals commonly used include lime, cement, and fly ash.

7. Soil Reinforcement

Soil reinforcement entails reinforcing weak soil with high-strength, thin horizontal membranes. Various materials such as rubber, aluminum, and thermoplastics have been successfully utilized for this purpose.

Fiber Reinforcement
Fig 7: Fiber Reinforcement

8. Geotextiles and Geomembranes

Geotextiles are porous fabrics made from synthetic materials, including polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, nylon, fiberglass, and various combinations thereof. Geotextiles serve multiple functions, including separation, filtration, drainage, reinforcement, and geomembrane applications.

Fig 8: GeoCells
Geo Textile
Fig 9: Geo Textile

9. Other Methods

Additional soil improvement methods encompass thermal methods, moisture barriers, prewetting, and the addition or removal of soils, among others.

In conclusion, soil improvement techniques play a pivotal role in ensuring the stability and longevity of various construction projects. The choice of method depends on the specific requirements of the project and the characteristics of the soil in question, with careful consideration given to factors such as soil type, depth, and local environmental conditions. By employing these techniques judiciously, engineers and construction professionals can achieve optimal results in their projects while safeguarding against potential soil-related challenges.

Read More : Ground Improvement Techniques for Stabilization of Soil for Various Purposes

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