Geofoam research helps pave road to Olympics
Geofoam research helps pave road to OlympicsDecember 04, 2001SU News ServicesSUnews@syr.edu
The road to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City is not only built on the sweat and hard work of the competitors, but also on geofoam. While the athletes will make it to Salt Lake City on their competitive drive and desire, the spectators will be driving on expanded polystyrene foam which is gaining popularity because of pioneering research being conducted by civil and environmental engineering professor Dawit Negussey.
Negussey, director of the Geofoam Research Center (GRC), is one of the nation’s leading experts in the study and application of geofoam. Geofoam is a block or planar rigid cellular foam polymeric material used in geotechnical engineering applications. Geofoam has very low density, good insulation, low hydraulic conductivity as well as strength and deformation properties that complement soil behavior. Geofoam can be used as a construction material in many important civil engineering projects.
The largest use of geofoam to date is on Interstate 15 (I-15) in Salt Lake City. I-15 is the main north-south highway through the city and a major connector of NAFTA partners Canada, the United States and Mexico. I-15 is heavily traveled and the percentage of heavy trucks in the traffic mix is high. The section of I-15 that goes through Salt Lake City had lived out its design life and major reconstruction was required to accommodate the heavy traffic that will come with the 2002 Olympics.
Wasatch Constructors, the winning consortium for the $1.6 billion I-15 reconstruction project, had to overcome several obstacles. The widening of I-15 had to occur with minimum acquisition of an expensive right of way through a developed downtown corridor. Existing utility services and businesses along the alignment could not be disrupted or relocated. Any collateral settlements of adjacent structures and plants had to be limited to avoid damage or affect performance. The project had to be completed in time for the start of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 8, and had to stay within budget. To meet these constraints, the Utah Department of Transportation and the contractors began to explore the possible use of geofoam at critical sections. A study group was formed and Negussey was invited to give a presentation on the feasibility of using geofoam.
“The I-15 reconstruction took place in a highly developed area, and they needed to get the project done fast so the road would be available as soon as possible,” Negussey says. “Adding to the design challenge is the fact that the freeway is built over a network of utility lines, and it is built on a former lake bed. Because geofoam is so light and bulky, it was installed quickly. Geofoam also enabled existing buried utility lines to remain in continuous service, without experiencing detrimental settlements, while at the same time providing support for the road.”
Negussey says that although the I-15 project is the most well known application of geofoam, the material has been used for more than 25 years and is enjoying exponential growth. The GRC is the first lab of its kind in the nation and is dedicated to research of geofoam properties, development of innovative applications, dissemination of technical information and technology transfer through education. The center has assisted manufacturers, engineers and contractors with both large and small projects. GRC has given technical seminars to state departments of transport staff, consulting engineers and university audiences.
Negussey believes geofoam is growing in popularity as a construction material and will continue to deliver that message at conferences and workshops. He is chair of the organizing committee for the EPS Geofoam 2001 International Conference that will be held in Salt Lake City in December, and he will present a keynote address at the conference. Along with Negussey, civil engineering graduate students Anasthas Navaratnam, Srirajan Sundaramoorthy, Armin Stuedlein and Xiaodong Huang will participate in the conference.
The North American Geosynthetics Society and the American Society for Testing and Materials are sponsoring a one-day workshop on geofoam at SU in May 2002. Negussey will give a keynote lecture at the workshop, and graduate student Armin Stuedlein will make a presentation. Negussey will also be a keynote speaker for the International Workshop on Lightweight Geomaterials to be held in March 2002 in Tokyo. He is also a member of the workshop’s advisory committee.
“I really believe that geofoam is just starting to gain recognition and its use is going to explode in the near future,” Negussey says. “It has a number of applications that people are just starting to take advantage of. We have positioned SU as a national and international leader in geofoam development.”