Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685

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Finite element modeling of the consolidation behavior of multi-column supported road embankment
Sari W. Abusharar, Jun-Jie Zheng *, Bao-Guo Chen
Institute of Geotechnical and Underground Engineering, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, 1037 Luoyu Road, Hongshan District, Wuhan, Hubei Province 430074, China

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
A multi-column composite foundation is a new concept utilizing different column types with varying lengths and diameters to support the embankment fill and to mobilize the strength and stiffness of the soil at shallow depths. This study presents the results of finite element analyses using the finite element software PLAXIS to investigate the consolidation behavior of a road embankment constructed on a multi-column composite foundation. The finite element results are calibrated for a period of 200 days. The settlement, horizontal displacement, differential settlement, column axial force, and the development and dissipation of excess pore pressure are presented and discussed in detail. It is concluded that a multi-column composite foundation allows a fast rate of consolidation and significantly increases the embankment stability. A multi-column composite foundation formed by CFG–lime columns is more effective than one formed by SC–lime columns. The CFG–lime columns improve the long-term stability of the embankment because the compression modulus of CFG columns is significantly greater than that of SC columns. Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 29 February 2008 Received in revised form 22 September 2008 Accepted 23 September 2008 Available online 1 November 2008 Keywords: Multi-column FEM Settlement Consolidation analysis Elasto-plasticity Embankment

1. Introduction The construction of embankments overlying soft soil with a high groundwater level often leads to large lateral pressures and movement, excessive settlements as well as slope and bearing failures, which usually result in long construction delays and costly remedial works. In such instances, ground improvement measures are often used to enhance stability and minimize ground movement. Examples of such soil improvement methods are preloading, vertical drains or grouting injection [1–3]. In China, combinations of cement–fly ash–gravel (CFG), soil–cement (SC), and lime columns are often used as ground improvement measures to support highway embankments overlying soft soils. This system consists of installing different column types with different lengths and diameters to support the embankment fill and to mobilize the strength and stiffness of the soil at shallow depths. Fig. 1 shows an example of such a composite foundation, where the embankment is supported by long CFG columns or SC columns and shorter lime columns (also called chemico columns). The long columns are generally much stiffer than the short columns and they are used much like piles to mobilize the bearing capacity of the deeper soil strata. The more flexible lime columns strengthen and stiffen the shallower soil strata, thereby allowing
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 27 87557024; fax: +86 27 87542231. E-mail addresses: (S.W. Abusharar), zhengjj@hust. (J.-J. Zheng), (B.-G. Chen). 0266-352X/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.compgeo.2008.09.006

the latter to be utilized as a load-supporting system. In many areas in China, this ground improvement method is being increasingly adopted. In recent years, a substantial amount of research has been conducted on such multi-column composite foundations. For instance, Liu et al. [4] and Chen et al. [5] performed field tests on composite foundation comprising two types of columns. Zhou et al. [6] carried out field tests on a composite foundation with three to four different column types. Chen [7] reported finite element analyses on multi-column composite foundation. Yan et al. [8] developed a systematic design method for multi-column composite foundation while Zheng et al. [9] proposed a design methodology for CFG–lime column composite foundation, which is now being used extensively in China and has proven to be an economical way of controlling settlements within the allowable levels and increasing the bearing capacity. Liang et al. [10] performed three-dimensional finite element method analyses of a composite piled raft foundation with different pile types. Zheng et al. [11] reported three-dimensional finite element method analyses of a multi-element composite foundation with SC–lime columns. Zheng et al. [12] conducted a series of three-dimensional finite element analyses on CFG–lime columns composite foundation with varying lengths and diameters. However, there are very few studies on multi-column composite foundations formed by CFG–lime columns or SC–lime columns at present. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first attempt to address the behavior of multi-column composite foundation for

.5 m of medium clay.5 m of very soft clay.3 m. 2. Abusharar et al.4.W. A multi-column supported embankment. Cross-section of multi-column supported embankment model for FEM analysis. length = 8.. 2. during which the mesh was progressively refined and its boundaries extended until stresses and deformations at the highly-stressed zones have sufficiently stabilized. Parametric studies are presented that shed light on effective combinations of columns. while the columns were assumed to be linearly elastic 15m 2m 11m 2m 15m B E D C A +2. Problem dimensions As Fig. Plane strain finite element analysis 2. They are as follows: long columns – diameter = 0. Thus.5 3m Long columns I Medium clay -16.4 m. The clear spacing between adjacent columns was set at 1.3. short columns – diameter = 0.0 Embankment F Water table 0. Modeling range The size of the modeled domain was determined on the basis of trial calculations. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 677 Reinforcement (Optional) Embankment Short columns Soft soil Long columns Firm soil or bedrock Fig.S. together with the general soil properties of Nong Ngu Hao test embankment was chosen for this study [13]. The column dimensions and spacing and the overall foundation dimensions were typical values used in engineering practice. and 4. supporting embankment fill. Numerical analyses considering realistic parameters are particularly needed for better utilization of the technique.2. The soil profile consists of three layers as follows: 8.5m H Soft clay -11. 2. 2. The problem was solved as a two-dimensional (2D) plane strain consolidation problem with a full cross-section using the software PLAXIS by restricting the planes perpendicular to the side of the embankment (i. height = 2 m. 2 shows.5m Firm soil Fig. 2.e.0 2m Short columns G Very soft clay -8.5 m.4 m. The vertical boundaries and the ground surface were set as drainage or recharge boundaries. 3 m of soft clay.5 8. The typical subsoil profile. displacements fixed only in the longitudinal directions).0 on both sides. Results from the trial calculation showed that the lateral boundaries should be extended to 15 m on each side of the embankment. length = 16 m. embankment – crest width = 11 m. The nodes on the two vertical boundaries were fixed against horizontal movement but allowed to move freely in the vertical direction. 1.0 4. This paper presents the results of a series of two-dimensional (2D) finite element analyses of the consolidation behavior of a multi-column supported embankment using the finite element software PLAXIS.1. the model considered here consists of an embankment fill supported by a multi-column composite foundation. Boundary conditions The soil beneath 16 m is a very stiff soil and its contribution to ground movement was considered to be negligible. The ground water table was taken at the ground surface. Material model and parameters The embankment fill and in situ soils were modeled as linearly elastic-perfectly plastic materials with the Mohr–Coulomb failure criterion. gradient of side slope = 1. the bottom boundary was set at this depth and was assumed to be completely rigid and impermeable.

cohesion. u0 . / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 Table 1 Material properties of the embankment and subsoil [13] Parameter Material model Type of material behavior Dry unit weight Sat. Finite element mesh of a multi-column supported embankment.3 4 23 0 0.005 2100 807. Basic elements considered for mesh generation.62 0.0006 2900 1115.005 0.3 0.5 132.39 0.8 Soft clay M–C Undrained 17 17 0. The elastic-perfectly plastic Mohr–Coulomb model requires five parameters: friction angle.678 S. .3 2. Young’s modulus.69 0.0007 0. The soil input parameters were determined from triaxial and in situ tests and prior publications [13].2 0. Previous studies have considered the Mohr–Coulomb model for the soft soil layers [13–17].47 0. The strength parameters. For numerical modeling.625 33088.3 5 23 0 0. dilatancy angle.355 [12] SC column Linear elastic Non-porous 100. that is E ¼ a Á Su ð1Þ where Su is the undrained shear strength and a = 75–100 for Nong Ngu Hao clay [13]. unit weight Horizontal permeability Vertical permeability Effective Young’s modulus Effective shear modulus Effective Poisson’s ratio Effective cohesion Effective friction angle Effective dilatancy angle Interface reduction factor Unit – – kN/m3 kN/m3 m/d m/d kPa kPa – kPa deg deg – Embankment fill M–C Drained 20 20 0.92 0.8 Medium clay M–C Undrained 18 18 0. c0 . u0 and c0 are obtained from large-scale laboratory testing of the soil compacted to field conditions. 4.W.3 1 30 0 – Very soft clay M–C Undrained 16 16 0.13 0.00. 3.30. In addition.009 0.50.355 [13] CFG column Linear elastic Non-porous 250. Abusharar et al.000 12602. w.000 2520. and the dilatancy angle has been assumed to be zero for all soils. Fig. the Mohr–Coulomb model is considered as a first order approximation for real soil behavior and highly recommended where soil parameters are not known with great certainty [18]. The Poisson’s ratio for the (a) Triangular element (b) Beam element (c) Interface element Fig.355 [11] soft clayey soils has been taken as 0.8 Table 2 Material properties of the columns [11–13] Parameter Material model Type of material behavior Young’s modulus Axial stiffness Flexural rigidity Poisson’s ratio Equivalent diameter Reference Unit – – kPa kN/m kNm2/ m – m – Lime column Linear elastic Non-porous 20. and Poisson’s ratio.000 31. the coefficient a has been taken here to be 100. E.5 23 0 0. material. The Young’s modulus was set as a multiple of its undrained shear strength.009 8000 3076.0009 2300 884. The material properties of the various components are shown in Tables 1 and 2.35 0.0009 0.5 26.25 0. m0 .

the hydraulic conductivity in the horizontal direction is higher than that in the vertical direction [19. . (d) point D. For most natural deposits.20]. (c) point C. (e) point E. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 679 The permeability of the clay is one of the most difficult parameters to determine. and (f) point F. Abusharar et al.S. (b) point B. In this paper. sand lenses and fissures in the in situ condi- tions. Settlement at (a) point A. There are many uncertainties regarding the ratios of horizontal permeability to vertical permeability due to the presence of silt seams.W. 5. the horizontal permeability is assumed to be approximately the same as the vertical [13]. Fig.

4a) were used to discretize the embankment and ground soils. and (d) point E. Mesh generation The FEM analysis was carried out using PLAXIS version 8. 3.2 to discretize the embankment. therefore. the shear stress s is given by jsj < rn tan /i þ ci and for plastic behavior.680 S. Loading procedure and calculation type The construction process of the embankment consisted of two phases. In Fig. For the interface to remain elastic. Interface elements have been extended to 0. The position of the Newton–Cotes integration points coincides with the node pairs. The stiffness matrix for interface elements is obtained by means of Newton– Cotes integration. . which means that the elements have zero thickness. A post-embankment construction period of 196 days is allowed for consolidation in the numerical analysis. 4b) with two translational degrees of freedom and one rotational degree of freedom were used to model the long and short columns. (c) point D.5 m/d). 4c. columns and ground soil geometry model into finite elements as shown in Fig. the interface elements are shown to have a finite thickness. Variation of settlement with depth beneath (a) point F. 2. Five-noded beam elements (Fig. Fifteen-noded triangular elements (Fig.5 m beneath the short columns in order to allow for sufficient flexibility around the column tip. The 15-noded triangular elements are accurate elements that provide high quality stress results for complex problems. Fig.6. (b) point C. but in the finite element formulation the coordinates of each node pair of interface elements are identical. 4c) were used to model the slippage between soil and columns. 6. each phase adding 1 m of height over 2 days (the average rate of construction was 0. An elastic–plastic model is used to describe the behavior of the interface of the soil and structure. s meets the criterion ð2Þ jsj ¼ rn tan /i þ ci ð3Þ where /i and ci are the friction angle and cohesion of the soil–structure interface.W. Consolidation analyses have been performed to simulate the development or dissipation of excess pore water pressure in the soft soil as a function of time.5. Five pairs of interface elements (Fig. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 2. The strength properties of interfaces are linked to the strength properties of the corresponding soil layer in which it is embedded. Each data set has an associated strength reduction factor for the interface (Rinter) [18]. The Coulomb criterion is used to distinguish between elastic behavior. Abusharar et al. where small displacements can occur within the interface. and plastic interface behavior when permanent slip occurs. the model was analyzed under an undrained condition.

These cases are as follows: (1) M1C1: without reinforcement. and (d) 13.S. (2) M2C1: the embankment fill supported by SC–lime columns. followed by M2C1 and then M3C1.25 m beneath ground surface. 7. Fig. 5 shows the variation of settlement with time at points A–F for the three cases. As can be seen. 8. Settlement analysis Fig. (b) 4. settlement is largest for M1C1. Abusharar et al. Results are presented for points A–I located in Fig. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 681 3.75 m beneath ground surface. Furthermore. . settlement has more or less stabilized about 200 days after construction. Differential settlement at the top surface of embankment. (c) 10 m beneath ground surface. Variation of settlement with horizontal distance at (a) ground surface. Results and discussion Three different cases have been considered to clarify the behavior of the new composite foundation and for comparison purposes. the settlement of M1C1 also takes much longer to stabilize than the corresponding settlement of M2C1 and M3C1.W. 3. and (3) M3C1: the embankment fill supported by CFG–lime columns.1. As can be seen. Fig. 2.

followed by subsequent settlement. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 Thus. compared to that of the SC columns. This is readily attributable to the higher compression modulus of the CFG col- umns. and (c) point E. Fig.W. The heave is maximum just after completion of the Fig. 9.682 S. Abusharar et al. (b) point D. . with the CFG–lime columns being the most effective in curtailing both the magnitude and time of consolidation. Lateral displacement at (a) point C. The settlement curves for points D and E show initial heave. and (c) point E. (b) point D. Variation of lateral displacement with depth beneath (a) point C. 10. the settlement is strongly influenced by the column type.

Fig. Thereafter. It can also be seen that the maximum settlement occurs at the ground surface at point F. Once again. As shown in Fig. 6. followed by SC–lime and then the untreated case. It can be seen that the differential settlement increases first and reaches a maximum at the end of embankment construction then gradually decreases with time as consolidation occurs. 10 m beneath ground surface (at the middle of soft clay layer). 8. The settlement profile shows that the maximum settlement occurs at the middle and at the ground surface and keeps decreasing towards the toe of the embankment and with depth. Moreover. 6 shows the variation of settlement with depth beneath points C–F. (c) point H. Abusharar et al. 3. 4. 10 shows the variation of lateral displacement along depth beneath points C–E. 11.25 m beneath ground surface (at the middle of very soft clay layer). case M1C1 shows the largest ground movement.75 m beneath ground surface (at the middle of medium clay layer). while the settlement beneath point D increases first then decreases with depth. Fig. the CFG–lime combination is the most effective. Differential settlement Fig. 3. 9 shows the variation of lateral displacement with time at points C–E.2. Fig. It can be seen in Fig. Fig. 6d that the upper part of the soil beneath point E is heaving whereas the lower part is settling. 8 shows the build-up of differential settlement between points A and B with time at the crest surface of the embankment.3. Lateral deformation Fig. because the stiffness of CFG columns is greater than that of SC columns. The results show that the lateral displacement of soft ground for the third case is larger than that for the second case at shallow depths. It can also be seen that surface heave starts at a distance 10 m outside the embankment and continues increasing. The differential settlement between the columns and surrounding subsoil arising from the differences in stiffness is also evident in Fig. It is clear that the lateral displacement slightly increases first then decreases significantly along the depth. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 683 embankment. As can be seen. . once again. it decreases with time as consolidation occurs. Excess pore pressure at (a) point F. the settlement decreases monotonically with depth beneath points F and C. This differential settlement also decreases with depth as settlement decreases.W. the maximum heave occurs at the ground surface and decreases with depth. and (d) point I. (b) point G. and 13. followed by M2C1 and finally M3C1.S. It can be seen that the lateral displacement starts immediately during the construction and reaches a maximum upon completion of the embankment construction. the differential settlement is strongly influenced by the column type. 7 shows the variation of settlement along the base of the embankment at the ground surface.

Yang XB. [8] Yan ML. [2] Magnan JP. Coimbra. p. Chen LZ. Axial forces of columns Fig. Washington. This is because that the displacements of subsoil are larger than those of the columns in a range of depth along the shaft. [4] Liu FY. [9] Zheng JJ. Based on the finite element results. Experimental comparison study on behavior of three and four-element composite foundation.25(3):352–5 [in Chinese]. 3. Fig. Shi XG. The long columns constructed from cement–fly ash– gravel (CFG) columns and/or soil–cement (SC) columns are used to reduce the settlement of the underlying soft ground. Chin J Geotech Eng 2003. It is also clear that multi-column ground treatments are effective in reducing the lateral displacement of the composite foundation along depth.25(5):124–9 [in Chinese]. the negative friction is generated by the relatively larger settlement of shallow subsoil. Maximum axial force of columns (a) long column and (b) short column. It is also seen that the maximum axial force of columns is lower from the head of the columns to a certain depth. Excess pore pressure analysis In this study. 12 shows the variation with depth of the maximum axial force in the columns. the lateral displacement of the soft ground for the third case is smaller than that for the second case. p. Design theory and application of CFG–lime piles composite ground.34(1):50–5 [in Chinese]. Fig. Portugal. Field test of a composite foundation including mixed pile. Yan XF. Study on the calculation method of multi-pile composite foundation. [3] Shen SL. Maximum settlement occurs at the center and at the ground surface. Chai JC. 4. Vertical and horizontal deformations of foundations and embankments. References [1] Ariema F. In: 6th International conference on ground improvement techniques. He C. Moreover. 1990. [10] Liang FY.25(1):71–5 [in Chinese]. ASCE Geotechnical Special Publication 40. National Research Council. Chin J Geotech Eng 2003. and positive skin friction is generated. Butler BE. 11 shows the variation of excess pore pressure with time at points F–I. The CFG–lime columns combination improves the longterm stability of the embankment because the fact that the compression modulus of CFG columns is significantly greater than that of SC columns. Hong ZS. 3. Multi-column ground treatment can significantly reduce total and differential settlements and restrict the lateral movement of the embankment.23(6):463–85. Chin Civil Eng J 2001. [5] Chen LZ. The rate of dissipation reaches a maximum once the embankment construction is completed and then decreases with time. [7] Chen Q. the greater the axial force of the columns. An embankment construction period of 200 days is allowed for consolidation in the numerical analysis. Huang DZ. 1994. The short columns constructed from lime columns (also called chemico columns) are used to improve and strengthen the shallow soft soil strata. Liang FY.5. the following conclusions can be drawn: 1. Geosynth Geomembranes 2005. It is clearly shown that dissipation starts immediately during the construction and continues afterwards. Chin J Geotech Eng 2004. Numerical analysis of composite piled raft with cushion subjected to vertical load. Zhang KN. 2. Comput Geotech 2003. Liu HL. [6] Zhou DQ. / Computers and Geotechnics 36 (2009) 676–685 while at larger depths. which agrees with field observations. Additionally. 59–73. It can be seen that the greater the elastic modulus of the columns. Cai FX. 77–91. the displacements of the columns are larger than that of the subsoil with the further increase in depth. It is also clear that the excess pore pressure increases with the depth from the ground surface.684 S.26(2):167–71 [in Chinese]. . In this study. Summary and conclusions A multi-column composite foundation utilizes different column types with different lengths and diameters to support the embankment fill and mobilize the strength and stiffness of the soil at shallow depths. Embankment foundations-guide to earthwork construction. Wang MS. Abusharar et al. the column axial force decreases with the depth again. Abusharar SW. 3. Below the neutral plane. 2005. 651–6. Thus. as a result. two-dimensional finite element analyses were used to investigate the consolidation behavior of a road embankment constructed on multi-column composite foundation. DC: Transportation Research Board. Behavior of combined composite ground and simulation by study FEM. Methods to reduce the settlement of embankments on soft clay: a review. Zhang DG. 12. the settlement is more at the center than that at the toe of the embankment. The multi-column composite foundation formed by CFG–lime columns is more effective than that formed by SC–lime columns. 4. the stability of the embankment can be improved.W. Liu X. Multi-column support allows for a faster rate of consolidation and significantly increases embankment stability. it is assumed that the excess pore water pressure induced by the installation of columns has dissipated before the construction of the embankment over the soft ground. J Build Struct 2004.30(6):443–53. p. Wang GC. Analysis of field performance of embankments on soft clay deposit with and without PVD-improvement.4. Field study on behavior of composite piled raft foundation for high-rise buildings.

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