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Reinforced Earth
Reinforced Earth was invented in 1957 by the French engineer and architect Henri Vidal,
who first published results of his research in 1963. After a brief period of skepticism by
practicing engineers, the first significant structures were constructed in Europe in 1967.
The new, patented technology was so versatile and cost effective that its use spread
rapidly in the early 1970s to more than 30 countries throughout the world. Vidal brought
his technology to the United States in 1971, at the invitation of the Federal Highway

With the encouragement of

financial support from a Federal Highway demonstration project, states constructed
additional Reinforced Earth structures as slide buttresses and slide repair walls in
mountainous areas, as a bridge abutment, as high retaining walls, and even as a
foundation reinforcement slab over a sinkhole-prone area. From these first experiences, it
was recognized that this material, with its unique high strength and flexibility, could be
used to support extremely heavy loads, even on marginal foundation conditions. In

addition to retaining walls for all imaginable applications, early Reinforced Earth
structures supported the heavy loads of quarry and mining vehicles and carried Cooper E
-80 railway loading. Constructed in France in 1969 and in the United States in 1974, the
first Reinforced Earth bridge abutments were "true" abutments, meaning the bridge
beams rested on a spread footing- type beam seat bearing directly on the reinforced
backfill (by comparison, "mixed" abutments have a row of piles supporting the beam
seat). One of the first true abutments in France carried a 250-foot span, while the first
American true abutment spanned a comparatively small 70 feet.
A Reinforced Soil System (RSS) is a composite material which has the following basic
Facing Panel: Commonly made of concrete, steel plate, wire mesh, block etc.
Soil Reinforcement Strips: Galvanized steel, geotextiles, etc.
Select Fill: Cohesionless soil meeting specific defined requirements.
The frictional forces created when combining the select fill with the flexible metallic or
non-metallic reinforcing strips result in a robust structural material, commonly known as
Reinforced Earth. The strips are attached to a front facing panel, which may be
manufactured from concrete or steel. The facing material selected is generally dependent
on it having sufficient durability to accommodate the design life of the structure, and also
meet the aesthetic needs of the project. The forces induced in the steel strips can be
precisely calculated and depend on,
Strip geometry
Strip frictional characteristics
Vertical soil pressure on the strip
Strength and stiffness characteristics on the strip
Importantly, the durability of the structure relies heavily on the ability of the soil
reinforcement strip to maintain a level of tensile strength in the operational environment
for the duration of the structures design life. The strip made up of steel, if used, is
therefore designed to include a sacrificial steel thickness, which predicts the amount of
strip corrosion throughout the design life of the structure. This is achieved by controlling
the environment in which the strip will be operating. The select fill, while having certain
physical requirements that ensure it is activated in forming part of the structural mass, is
also required to have electrochemical characteristics that also ensures that corrosion of
the strip is not excessive or beyond the allowance made in the strip design. Furthermore,
the strip is coated with zinc galvanizing for further protection.

The final length and frequency of the soil reinforcement strips is a function of the
combinations of geometric and physical properties of the structure and the applied design
loads. While the facing to the Reinforced Earth wall technically does not take on a
structural role in support of the loads, it obviously forms an important part in the wall in
preventing the erosion of backfill, supporting the soil reinforcement and weathering the
local environment. Typically, for roads projects, concrete is the only economical material
that can achieve the necessary 100 year design life without the need for any continuous
maintenance or repair. The facing also forms the most visual aspect of the structure and is
often required to have some aesthetic appeal, particularly in urban areas. Concrete can
lend itself readily to the provision of architectural and aesthetic requirements. The facing
panels can however, often be a complex component to manufacture as each facing panel
may have very individual characteristics with respect to its geometry, finish or cast-in
Basic Mechanics of Reinforced Earth:
Mechanics of reinforced earth can be explained by a simple example.

An axial load is acting on a sample of granular material will result in lateral expansion in
dense materials as shown in fig. (a). Because of dilation, the lateral strain is more than
one-half the axial strain. However, if inextensible horizontal reinforcing elements are
placed within the soil mass, as shown in fig. (b) these reinforcements will prevent lateral
strain because of friction between the reinforcing elements and the soil, and the behavior
will be as if a lateral restraining force or load had been imposed on the element. This
equivalent lateral load on the soil element is equal to the earth pressure at rest (K o sv ).
Each element of the soil mass is acted upon by a lateral stress equal (K o sv ). Therefore, as
the vertical stresses increase, the horizontal restraining stresses or lateral forces also
increase in direct proportion. Reinforced Earth is, therefore, a composite material,
combining the compressive and shear strength of compacted granular fill with the tensile
strength of horizontal, inextensible reinforcements. In practical terms, the larger the
surcharge put atop a Reinforced Earth structure, the stronger the material becomes. Thus,
understanding Reinforced Earth's basic mechanics and its resulting inherent strength and
flexibility, and with the addition of a facing system, this composite material was well
suited for use as bridge abutments and other heavily loaded structures. The combination
of facing, reinforcement and granular backfill has performed successfully, in an everincreasing number of abutments and other structures, for over three decades.
Materials Used For Reinforced Earth:
(1) Facing:
For vertical structures a facing is required. The purpose of the facing is to retain
the soil between the layers of reinforcements in the immediate vicinity of the
facing and to provide a suitable architectural treatment to the structure. Although
the facing does not affect the overall stability of the structure, it must be able to
adopt the deformations without distortions and without introducing stresses in the
reinforced soil structures. Various materials like galvanized steel, stainless steel,
aluminium, bricks, precast concrete slabs, prestressed concrete panels, geotextiles
geogrids, plastics, glass reinforced plastics and timber may be used for this
purpose. However, facing made of either metal units or precast concrete panels are
commonly used because of their easy handling and assembling.
Metal facing:
Metal facing elements are manufactured from mild or galvanized steel or
aluminium and have the same properties as the reinforcing strips. They are
generally 333 mm high. In cross-section a metal facing element is semielliptical, and there is a continuous horizontal joint along one edge as

shown in fig. Holes are provided for bolting the lacing elements to one

another and to the reinforcing strips. This type of facing was the first to be
used in reinforced earth construction. Because of the shape in profile and
the thinness in cross-section of this type of facing, it can adapt itself to
significant deformation. The standard facing elements are straight measure
up to 10 m long, and weight 115 kg. Shorter facing elements are available
for connections at the extremities, and special units 4are supplied for
Concrete Panel Facing:
The precast concrete panels are crusiform-shaped, weigh about one ton, and
are separated by a substantial joint. Vertical dowels set into the panels assist
in the assembly, and ensure the interaction between panels which makes the
entire facing behave a flexible unit, even in a situation where there are
significant differential settlements. The racing becomes a mosaic made up
of units measiurng 1.5 x 15 m as shown in fig.

Each individual element is rigid, but in combination, the elements become a

facing whose-flexibility is equivalent to that obtained with metal facing
elements. Since the dowel allows the rotation of the panels, it is possible to
construct a curved wall on a minimum radius of 20 metres.
(2) Soil Reinforcement:
The most common types of reinforcement used in reinforced soil structures are
strips, grids and sheets.
These are flexible linear elements having their breadth greater than their
thickness. The thickness usually ranges between 3 mm and 9 mm. while the
breadth between 40 mm and 120 mm. The most common strips are metals
(galvanized steel, Aluminium-Magnesium alloy, 17% chrome stainless
steel). The strip may either be plain or having several protusions such as
ribs or grooves to increase the friction between the reinforcement and soil.
Wherever, metal strips are used as reinforcement, provision should be made

for loss of thickness due to corrosion. Marine sand dissolves 150-200

microns per year of strips of mild or galvanized steel, and 2-3 microns per
year of strips of Al-Mg alloy. Maximum rate of corrosion of the same
metals with other soils is 15 to 20 times less. Ferric steel with 17% chrome
steel is found good corrosion resistant metal. This factor should be
examined carefully keeping in view the durability of the structure.
However, metal reinforcements are used by providing an additional
thickness of 0.75- 1.25 mm for galvanized steel and 0.1 to 0.2 mm for
stainless steel, depending upon the nature of soil, for making up the loss of
corrosion. Strips can also be formed from bamboo, polymers and glass fiber
reinforced plastics.
Reinforcing elements formed from transverse and longitudinal members, in
which the transverse members run parallel to the face or tree edge of the
structure and behave as abutment or anchors. The main purpose is to retain
the transverse members in position. Since the transverse members act as an
abutment or anchor they need to be stiff relative to their length. The
longitudinal members may be flexible having a high modulus of elasticity
not susceptible to creep.
Grids can be made from steel in the form of plain or galvanized weld mesh,
or from expanded metal. Grids formed from polymers are known as
geogrids, and are normally in the form of an expanded proprietary plastic
product. The raw materials are polypropylene or high density polyethylene.
The polymer sheets are first perforated, the form, size and distribution of
holes being determined by the end product. The perforated sheets are then
stretched in one direction while it is gently heated. The action of stretching
the sheet aligns the polymers long chain molecules in the direction of
stretch, giving the grid a high tensile stiffness in this direction. A uniaxial
lattice, that is a grid stretched in one direction, is thus produced. The term
uniaxial arises from the alignment of the stretched polymer ribs and the
greatest strength properties in one direction.
An alternative form of grid may be produced by clamping the uniaxial
lattice on the stretched side and applying a second stretching on the
transverse direction. This gives a biaxial grid with a square aperture shape.

The biaxial grid is used for gabions while the uniaxial one is used for
reinforcing soil structures.
The sequence of preparing the uniaxial and biaxia1 grids are illustrated in
Fig. (a) and the products so prepared are shown in Fig. (b).



(3) Soil or Fill Matrix:

The choice of soil depends on the following considerations:
Type of structure
Long term stability of completed structure
Short term stability
Physiochemical properties of materials
In vertically faced reinforced soil structures a better quality of fill is likely to be
specified in contrast to embankment structures where the whole objective of the
reinforcing concept may be to improve the existing marginal fill. The stability of a
reinforced soil structure depends on the adequate development of friction bond
between soil and reinforcement. The friction mobilized will be a function of the
characteristics of soil as well as the reinforcement. The characteristics of the fill
which effect the soil-reinforcement friction are its composition, density and
Cohesionless soils compacted to densities that result in volumetric expansion
during shear are ideally suited for use in reinforced soil structures. These soils are
well drained, effective normal stress transfer between reinforcement and soil fill
will be immediate as each lift of fill is placed, and shear strength increase will not
lag behind the vertical loading. In the range of loading normally associated with
reinforced soil structures, granular soils behave as elastic materials. Therefore, for
structures designed at working stress levels, no post-construction movements
associated with internal yielding or readjustments should be anticipated. Further
cohesionless soils are non-corrosive to reinforcing elements and also not
susceptible to frost. The only disadvantage of cohesionless soils is that these
would usually be imported material and might therefore be costly.
On the other hand, cohesive soils are not suitable for reinforced soil structures.
These soils are normally poorly drained. Excess pore pressures might develop
during construction leading to short-term instability of structure. The adhesion
between soil and reinforcement will be independent of normal stress and might

restrict the height of structure. Cohesive soils exhibit elasto-plastic or plastic

behavior, thereby increasing the possibility or post-construction movements. The
highly stressed reinforcement in cohesive fill might be susceptible to creep and to
greater attack by corrosion. Further, the cohesive fills may also be susceptible to
frost. Reinforced soil structures constructed using cohesive soils require
comprehensive drainage, and may be difficult to place, especially in wet
conditions. With cohesive soils, the main advantage is availability and therefore an
economical material.