No matter what you’re building or where you’re building it, you have to think about the soil on your construction site. You may need to protect it from erosion, increase its stability, protect it from chemicals, or control how water flows through it. For each of these concerns, geosynthetic materials like geosynthetic liners or geocells can provide immense benefits.
If you’re building new fuel storage tanks or putting in a municipal septic system, you’ll need geosynthetic materials. But what are they and what do they do? Read on for a brief synthesis of geosynthetic materials and their applications and benefits.
What are geosynthetic materials?
Geosynthetic materials are man-made materials that are used to protect or improve soil quality. There are several key categories of geosynthetics:
Geotextiles are fabric-like (hence “textiles”) and are felted or woven synthetic materials. These textiles often come on rolls and are similar in look and feel to landscape fabric. This geosynthetic cloth is used for its permeability and filtration characteristics, as well as its flexibility and tensile strength.
Geocells are webs of cells formed from synthetics molded into an accordion-like structure, expanding when unfurled. These cells can be filled with filtration or fill materials like gravel or soil when the cellular confinement system (the overarching term for geocells and similar systems) is spread on a landscape.
Geogrids are geosynthetics that are formed into flat, intersecting grids—they look like temporary construction fencing. The open spaces in geogrids (called apertures) vary in size, depending on the desired stiffness of the material, and this design helps distribute loads over wider areas, increasing soil stability. Geogrids can be created via extrusion, weaving, or welding and extrusion.
Geomembranes are the least permeable of the geosynthetic materials we’ve covered, as they’re generally used to control the movement of fluids. They are made of polymer sheets or from geotextiles treated with polymer spray.
What are geosynthetic materials used for?
At a high level, geosynthetic materials are used to protect soil. This includes reinforcing soil, preventing soil movement or loss, improving load distribution on level or sloped soil, separating soils, controlling water flow through soil, and containing liquids or preventing fluids from permeating soil. This means that when we get into specifics, geosynthetic materials and geosynthetic liners have hundreds of specialized applications for a variety of industries.
Geosynthetic material applications in the construction industry
One of the main uses of geosynthetic materials is for secondary containment. Secondary containment systems are used in conjunction with primary containment systems (that is, containers or tanks) to prevent discharge from escaping into an uncontained area. Essentially, it’s a backup containment system in case the main system you’re using to contain a material leaks or fails.
Secondary containment applications for geosynthetics include:
- Aboveground storage tanks and foundation ringwall liners
- Secondary containment levees, berms, and dikes
- Spill containment berms
- Leach fields
Geosynthetic liners can also be used for primary containment and storage, particularly for water. Some use cases include:
- Pond liners
- Brine ponds
- Stormwater ponds
- Temporary storage pits
- Fuel reserve pits
- Landfill Liners
It is also the case that some sort of containment is needed for situations where hazardous or potentially hazardous materials are being used or stored as a spill pad, kind of like putting down a tarp before you paint something. Potential uses in this category include:
- Concrete protection
- Drilling pad liners
- Remediation pads
- Frac tanks
- Decontamination liners
Additionally, in some applications, like erosion control or environmental restoration, geosynthetic materials like mats and tubes may be used in combination with biodegradable materials, such as blankets made from coconut, straw, jute, or other natural fibers. This is generally to prevent soil erosion and to protect germinating plant life from stormwater runoff, wind, and animals.
Geosynthetic materials and systems are used in many industries requiring specialty construction. Here are just some of the industries that commonly require the use of geosynthetic materials and liners:
- Wastewater treatment
- Industrial construction
- Water resources management
- Environmental services
- Power and energy
- Industrial waste management
- Industrial wastewater management
What are the benefits of using geosynthetic materials?
Each type of geosynthetic material has its own specific uses and, therefore, its own performance characteristics and benefits. But generally speaking, the benefits of geosynthetic materials are their tensile strength, durability, and permeability or impermeability, depending on the use. For containment or water flow control, impermeability is essential; for erosion control or soil stabilization, permeability is necessary to allow for natural soil behavior and health, as well as to avoid creating unintended water flow or runoff issues.
Geogrids and geotextiles are excellent for soil reinforcement and stabilization because of their resistance to environmental and construction damage, as well as their high tensile modulus and strength. Geomembranes are also resistant to damage, particularly chemical and hazardous material damage, which, paired with their impermeability, make them ideal for primary and secondary containment applications.
If you’re in need of a foolproof secondary containment system, geosynthetic liners are a great choice. And at US FUSION, our experts have decades of experience in installing them properly, safely, and efficiently. Contact our team to learn more about how we can help with your project.