Researcher works with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen military and civilian earthen structures – BIOENGINEER.ORG

Building materials have remained relatively unchanged since the invention of cement in the early 19th centuryth century. This can have significant shortcomings for overseas military structures.

Building materials have remained relatively unchanged since the invention of cement in the early 19th centuryth century. This can have significant shortcomings for overseas military structures.

Building military infrastructure abroad requires loading on cargo ships with large quantities of heavy cement, reducing space for other critical supplies such as medical resources and protective equipment. Handling cement can also be potentially harmful to soldiers because inhaling cement powder is known to cause respiratory diseases.

“We want to identify and validate a new human-friendly adhesive material to improve soil engineering performance and further control the shelf life of this material in the country,” said Sherif Abdelaziz, associate professor of civil engineering and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

Abdelaziz received funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two projects. One project is related to the use of biopolymers for soil improvement in collaboration with the Army Environmental Protection Laboratory (EL). The second project focuses on the use of biopolymers to strengthen military soil structures and soils.

Biopolymers are compounds that are naturally produced by living organisms in the soil. “They are very safe for human health and the environment,” Abdelaziz said. “We consume biopolymers in our daily lives in several food products.”

For the first project, Abdelaziz and his team will test soil modified with biopolymers for performance and strength in the lab so they can one day benefit from real-world construction. Researchers hope that exchanging natural soils with engineered biopolymer composites can strengthen geo-structures, or structures that support rocks and soil, as well as procedures for their design and construction.

“This type of structure needs to be built quickly with minimal concern for the health of our soldiers,” Abdelaziz said. “Biopolymers provide new means of replacing conventional cement-based treatments.”

Biopolymer-stabilized soils can be designed to self-degrade the treatment, reducing the U.S. military’s negative footprint on the environment around the world. Additionally, using these soils will minimize construction dust that can be harmful to soldiers.

“This is a fundamental departure from the status quo,” Abdelaziz said. “The use of biopolymers to stabilize military and civilian soil structures will facilitate the replacement of cement materials that are currently widely used. Replacing these materials with biopolymers will have a positive impact on the environment and the health of all living species, including U.S. Army soldiers. ”

Abdelaziz’s research team intends to apply their work to another project with soil-stabilized biopolymers to build stronger dams and embankments.

Currently, the construction of earth dams and embankments relies on natural geomaterials, such as soil and rocks. However, these materials have shown long-term problems due to deterioration and erosion. The failure of these dams and embankments can lead to deaths and significant capital losses. Unfortunately, there are currently no alternative materials for the construction or renovation of these buildings.

“There is an urgent need to develop and test the effectiveness of new innovative materials that can increase the resilience of these structures,” Abdelaziz said.

Assessing the potential benefits of biopolymer materials, he hopes to further understand the basics of surface and internal soil erosion to discover whether using biopolymers can mitigate soil erosion and minimize failures that can lead to injury and financial loss.

In the laboratory, Abdelaziz will use advanced numerical models to examine how different biopolymers interact with different soil types. From there, it can design procedures for soils treated with biopolymers that the Engineering Corps can use to rehabilitate a set of samples of earth dams, embankments and embankments. These structures will be monitored for several years, which will allow the team to update experimentally guided design procedures as needed.

“Our main goals are to develop ways to maximize the military impact of supporting infrastructure,” Abdelaziz said. “This, in turn, can help maximize U.S. military performance.”

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