Three-Dimensional Finite Difference Analysis of Geosynthetic Reinforcement Used in Column-Supported Embankments

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Virginia Tech


Column-supported, geosynthetic-reinforced embankments provide effective geotechnical foundations for applications in areas of weak subgrade soils. The system consists of a soil bridging layer with one or more embedded layers of geosynthetic reinforcement supported by driven or deep mixed columnar piles. The geosynthetic promotes load transfer within the bridging layer to the columns, allowing for larger column spacings and varied alignments. This technique is generally used when differential settlements of the embankment or adjacent structures are a concern and to minimize construction time.

Recent increase in the popularity of this composite system has generated the need to further investigate its behavior and soil-structure interaction. Current models of geosynthetics are oversimplified and do not represent the true three-dimensional nature of the material. Such simplifications include treating the geosynthetic as a one-dimensional cable as well as neglecting stress concentrations and pile orientations. In this thesis, a complete three-dimensional analysis of the geosynthetic is performed.

The geosynthetic was modeled as a thin flexible plate in a single square unit cell of the embankment. The principle of minimum potential energy was then applied, utilizing central finite difference equations. Energy components from vertical loading, soil and column support, as well as bending and membrane stiffness of the geosynthetic are considered. Three pile orentation types were implemented: square piles, circular piles, and square piles rotated 45° to the edges of the unit cell. Each of the pile orientations was analyzed using two distinct parameter sets that are investigated in previously published and ongoing research. Vertical and in-plane deflections, stress resultants, and strains were determined and compared to other geosynthetic models and design guides. Results of each parameter set and pile orientation were also compared to provide design recommendations for geosynthetic-reinforced column-supported embankments.



finite difference, pile support, plate, geosynthetic reinforcement