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Short-Term Local Tensile Strains in HDPE Heap Leach

Geomembranes from Coarse Overliner Materials


R. W. I. Brachman, M.ASCE1; R. K. Rowe, F.ASCE2; and H. Irfan3

Abstract: Local tensile strains in a 1.5-mm-thick high-density polyethylene (HDPE) geomembrane induced from coarse overliner soil materials
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intended to simulate the physical conditions at the base of a heap leach mineral extraction pad under very deep burial are reported. They were
obtained from physical experiments conducted in a 590-mm-diameter pressure vessel at applied vertical pressures up to 3,000 kPa for 100 h
and a temperature of 21°C. An applied pressure of 3,000 kPa corresponds to a heap leach depth of around 150 m. Three different coarse-
grained overliner materials placed directly above the geomembrane and a silty sand underliner beneath the geomembrane were examined. Both the
grain size and grain size distribution of the overliner affected the maximum tensile strain in the geomembrane. At an applied pressure of 3,000 kPa,
the largest strain of 27% recorded for the coarsest overliner tested, which had a maximum particle size of 50 mm and 20% sand, well exceeded one
proposed maximum allowable strain limit of 6%. Finer overliners with both a smaller maximum particle size (25 mm) and much more sand (35 and
55%) reduced the geomembrane strains, but the maximum values still exceeded 6% by a factor of 2, even for the finest overliner examined. At these
high pressures, a 150-mm-thick silty sand protection layer between the geomembrane and even the coarsest overliner examined was found to be
very effective at reducing local indentations in the geomembrane from overliner particles and was able to reduce the tensile strain in the
geomembrane to 2%. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)GT.1943-5606.0001087. © 2014 American Society of Civil Engineers.
Author keywords: Geomembranes; Liners; Leaching; Mining.

Introduction geomembrane that develop at small indentations from overlying or


underlying gravel particles to ensure adequate long-term perfor-
Geomembranes are used in mining applications to line the bottom of mance (Seeger and Müller 2003; Rowe et al. 2004; Abdelaal et al.
heap leach pads (Thiel and Smith 2004). Heap leaching involves 2013). Although much is known about local geomembrane strains
passing a chemical solution through a pile of crushed ore to extract that may develop in municipal solid waste landfill applications
the desired mineral (Lupo 2010). In these applications, it is important (Tognon et al. 2000; Brachman and Gudina 2008a, b; Hornsey and
to minimize leakage through the base to limit environmental impact Wishaw 2012), there is a paucity of data on the tensile strains that
from the chemical solution and also increase mineral and solution may develop for heap leach geomembranes.
reagent recovery (Smith 2013). Tensile strains developed in heap leach geomembranes from the
Leakage through the geomembrane can be reduced by limiting material placed beneath the geomembrane, termed here as the under-
the number of holes that develop in the geomembrane (Rowe 2012). liner, have been reported by Rowe et al. (2013b). They investigated how
Holes can occur during placement of overlying materials or from grain size, grain size distribution, and compressibility of the underliner
local indentations from overlying or underlying coarse particles affected the resulting geomembrane strains, for one particular coarse,
when subject to the weight of the material above the geomembrane. well-graded gravel above the geomembrane, which for this paper is
Current practice to minimize the number of holes is to conduct termed the overliner. They found that the grain size distribution of the
performance tests with proposed soil materials, often conducted for underliner had a much greater effect on the potential for puncturing and
24–100 h to assess whether the geomembrane punctures (Thiel and the magnitude of the strains in the geomembrane than just its maximum
Smith 2004; Lupo and Morrison 2007). The focus of these short- particle size. Of the six granular underliners they examined, strains were
term tests is almost exclusively on whether the geomembrane the smallest with a well-graded sand with some gravel and silt (15%
punctures. In addition to whether there is puncture in a short-term gravel with a maximum particle size of 10 mm, 60% sand, 15% low
test, there may also be a need to limit the local tensile strains in the plasticity silt by mass) beneath the geomembrane. It had a sufficient
amount of finer particles to surround larger gravel size particles in the
1
Professor, GeoEngineering Centre at Queen’s–RMC, Queen’s Univ.,
underliner, such that strains were dominated by the coarse particles from
Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6 (corresponding author). E-mail: brachman@ the overliner above the geomembrane. However, the strain of 11% for
civil.queensu.ca this best case reported by Rowe et al. (2013b) at a vertical pressure of
2
Professor, Canada Research Chair in Geotechnical and Geoenvironmen- 2,000 kPa was nearly twice as large as the maximum value of 6%
tal Engineering, and Killam Fellow, GeoEngineering Centre at Queen’s– recommended by Peggs et al. (2005) for ensuring good long-term
RMC, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6. E-mail: kerry@civil performance of a geomembrane. Strains were even larger with greater
.queensu.ca
3
fines content in the underliner (intended to attain low permeability
Graduate Student, GeoEngineering Centre at Queen’s–RMC, Queen’s beneath the geomembrane to limit any leakage), because of an increase
Univ., Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6. E-mail: huma.irfan@ce.queensu.ca
in compressibility of the material beneath the geomembrane leading to
Note. This manuscript was submitted on April 26, 2013; approved on
December 16, 2013; published online on February 6, 2014. Discussion period larger local indentations from gravel particles above the geomembrane.
open until July 6, 2014; separate discussions must be submitted for individual The next logical step is to question how different overliners affect tensile
papers. This paper is part of the Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenviron- strains and how best to limit these strains at even larger vertical
mental Engineering, © ASCE, ISSN 1090-0241/04014011(8)/$25.00. pressures.

© ASCE 04014011-1 J. Geotech. Geoenviron. Eng.

J. Geotech. Geoenviron. Eng. 2014.140.


The objective of this paper is to quantify the short-term tensile friction, providing additional evidence that the interface treatment
strains induced in the geomembrane from coarse heap leach over- remained effective at the high pressures examined in this paper.
liner materials placed on the top of geomembrane. Results from
physical experiments conducted in a 590-m-diameter pressure
vessel, at applied vertical pressures up to 3,000 kPa for 100 h and at Materials
a temperature of 21°C, are reported for three different overliner
materials. Results are also reported from experiments with a soil
protection layer on the top of the geomembrane to examine its Geomembrane and Underliner
effectiveness at reducing geomembrane strains. Each experiment consisted of a 1.5-mm-thick smooth HDPE geo-
membrane on top of a 150-mm-thick compacted soil underliner.
This type and thickness of geomembrane was found to be the most
Method commonly used in a recent review of 88 heap leach cases by Rowe
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et al. (2013b), where HDPE was used in 75% of those cases, pre-
A cylindrical steel pressure vessel with an inside diameter of 590 sumably because of its good chemical resistance [for reference, linear-
mm and a height of 500 mm (Fig. 1) was used to examine the re- low density polyethylene (LLDPE) was used in 22% of these cases and
sponse of a geomembrane to different overliner materials. It is PVC in 3%]. Index tensile properties of the geomembrane are given in
capable of sustaining internal working pressures up to 3,100 kPa. Table 1. It also had a crystallinity of 48% when tested in accordance
Vertical pressures were applied by using fluid pressure acting on with ASTM E794 (ASTM 2006). All geomembrane specimens tested
a flexible, natural gum rubber bladder. Horizontal pressures cor- were obtained from the same roll.
responding to conditions of zero lateral strain were developed by Only one particular silty sand underliner was examined in this
limiting the outward deflection of the test apparatus. paper to isolate the effects of the overliner on geomembrane strains.
A friction treatment comprised of high-temperature bearing With a maximum particle size of 2 mm and 25–30% low plasticity
grease between two layers of 0.1-mm-thick polyethylene sheets was fines (Fig. 2), this soil was toward the finer bound of the envelope of
used to reduce side wall friction along the vertical boundaries of the underliner materials reported by Lupo and Morrison (2007). It also
test apparatus. One sheet was attached to the inside wall of the test was within the range of typical underliners in the heap leach cases
apparatus, whereas the other was able to move downward with the reviewed by Rowe et al. (2013b). The silty sand was compacted in
overliner material. The friction treatment was protected by six 1.5- the apparatus to its Standard Proctor maximum dry density
mm-thick high-density polyethylene (HDPE) strips that were cut to (1,750 kg=m3 ) at its Standard Proctor optimum moisture content
be 45 mm wide and placed in front of the friction treatment in rings, (11%) in three 50-mm-thick lifts.
with a vertical spacing of 5 mm between the rings to minimize
binding. With this treatment, boundary friction has been measured
to be less than 5° for normal stresses on the interface up to 150 kPa Overliners
(Tognon et al. 1999), which corresponds to an applied vertical Three different overliners, denoted as OL1–OL3, were used in this
pressure of 500 kPa in Fig. 1 if the lateral earth pressure coefficient is study. Their grain size distributions are plotted in Fig. 2, and key
0.3. On the basis of physical testing and nonlinear finite-element values are summarized in Table 2. The grain size envelope of
analysis, Krushelnitzky and Brachman (2009) verified the effec- overliner materials from several heap leach projects compiled by
tiveness of the friction treatment in the 0.6-m-diameter cell for Lupo and Morrison (2007) was used as guidance to select these
applied vertical pressures of 3,000 kPa. For the size of the test overliner materials. Overliner OL1 was the coarsest material tested.
apparatus and an interface friction of 5°, at least 95% of the pressure Its gradation was selected to match the coarser bound of the envelope
applied at the top has been calculated to reach the elevation of the by Lupo and Morrison (2007). OL1 is a well-graded gravel with
geomembrane (Brachman and Gudina 2002). Posttest inspections a maximum particle size of 50 mm and about 20% by mass sand-size
of the sand surface indicated no discernible affects from interface particles. Overliner OL2 had a similar shaped grain size distribution

Fig. 1. Cross section through a typical test cell used in experiments (mm)

© ASCE 04014011-2 J. Geotech. Geoenviron. Eng.

J. Geotech. Geoenviron. Eng. 2014.140.


Table 1. Geomembrane Index Tensile Properties
Propertya Unit Mean SD
Yield strength kN=m 27 1
Break yield strength kN=m 46 5
Yield elongation strain Percentage 24 2
Break elongation strain Percentage 830 80
a
Measured in the machine direction following ASTM D6693 (ASTM 2010).
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Fig. 2. Grain size distribution of Overliners OL1–OL3 and Underliner


Fig. 3. Particle shapes from underliners: (a) OL1; (b) OL2; (c) OL3
UL tested

Table 2. Overliner Grain Size 2,000 or 3,000 kPa was reached. Breitenbach and Thiel (2005)
reported typical unit weights of crushed ore in heap leach pads to be
Overliner D10 (mm) D30 (mm) D60 (mm) D85 (mm) Cu Cc
between 17.3 and 20:4 kN=m3 . Assuming a unit weight of 19 kN=m3
OL1 2 8.8 18 30 9.0 2.2 and considering 95% of the applied pressure reaching the level of
OL2 0.18 1.9 8 17 44 2.5 geomembrane, applied pressures of 2,000 and 3,000 kPa correspond
OL3 0.05 0.23 2 10.1 40 0.5 to ore heights of approximately 100 and 150 m, respectively. The
largest pressure in each test was held constant for 100 h. All experiments
were conducted at a temperature of 21 6 2°C; as such, the strains may
curve as OL1 but had a smaller maximum and minimum grain size. It underestimate the pressures if service temperatures are higher.
is a well-graded gravel and sand with a maximum particle size of 25 After completion of each test, the geomembrane was carefully
mm and less than 10% nonplastic fines. OL2 matched the finer bound removed and inspected. The local deformations in the geomembrane
of the overliner envelope from Lupo and Morrison (2007). Overliner were preserved on a thin lead sheet that was placed between the
OL3 had the same maximum grain size and a similar amount of fines geomembrane and the underliner. The lead sheet was 0.4 mm thick
as OL2, but had much more sand. For all three overliners, the coarse and measured 270 3 270 mm. The deformed shape of the local
particles were crushed from granite that produced angular to sub- indentations was then measured with a laser scanner to an accuracy
angular particles (Fig. 3). of 6 0:04 mm. Geomembrane strains were calculated from the
The overliners were placed in the apparatus without compaction measured deformed shape using the method developed by Tognon
(a scoop full of gravel particles was gently dropped from a constant et al. (2000).
height of approximately 50 mm), achieving an initial bulk density of
approximately 1,550 kg=m3 . The overliner was 300 mm thick as
shown in Fig. 1. Results
Procedure
Typical Results
After the underliner, geomembrane, and overliner materials were
placed in the test apparatus, a separator geotextile and a 50- to 70- A total of nine different test series were conducted. The overliner
mm-thick layer of fine to medium sand were placed on top of the and applied pressure for each series is given in Table 3. The geo-
overliner. This sand was used to protect the bladder from potential membrane did not puncture in any of these tests, and hence, the focus
puncture by coarse gravel in the overliner. The sand was leveled, and of this paper is on the tensile strains that developed in the geo-
a rubber bladder was then installed above the sand with another layer membrane. The largest three tensile strains from each test are also
of separator geotextile between the fine sand and the bladder. The given in Table 3.
bladder was secured into place between the flanges of the test ap- To illustrate how strains were calculated, a typical deformed
paratus to provide a mechanical seal. shape of an indentation producing the maximum tensile strain in
To start each experiment, water pressure was applied to the Test 4 is plotted in Fig. 4(a). In this and all other similar plots, h is the
bladder in increments of 200 kPa every 10 min (to allow the system vertical distance above the deepest point of the indentation. The
to respond to the pressure increment) until the required pressure of components of membrane and bending strain of the geomembrane as

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J. Geotech. Geoenviron. Eng. 2014.140.


Table 3. Test Conditions and Three Largest Strains from Each Replicate
Applied pressure Largest tensile
Test number Overliner (kPa) strains (%)
1 OL1 500 6, 5, 2
1A OL1 5, 4, 3
2 OL1 1,000 7, 5, 3
2A OL1 8, 4, 2
3 OL1 2,000 18, 17, 14
3A OL1 15, 12, 11
3B OL1 18, 17, 14
4 OL1 3,000 27, 26, 14
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4A OL1 18, 15, 13


4B OL1 27, 22, 16
5 OL2 2,000 11, 10, 9
5A OL2 12, 9, 9
6 OL2 3,000 14, 9, 8
6A OL2 13, 8, 8
6B OL2 15, 10, 8
7 OL3 2,000 8, 6, 5
7A OL3 9, 6, 4
7B OL3 9, 8, 6
8 OL3 3,000 11, 7, 6
8A OL3 12, 10, 6
8B OL3 12, 9, 6
9 OL1 1 PL a 3,000 2, 1
9A OL1 1 PL a 2, 2
a
150-mm-thick silty sand protection layer.
Fig. 4. (a) Measured deformed shape of geomembrane indentation;
(b) calculated membrane and bending components of strain; (c) calculated
strains for the top and bottom surfaces of the geomembrane for the in-
dentation with the maximum strain in Test 4 (OL1; 3,000 kPa)
defined by Tognon et al. (2000) are given in Fig. 4(b). Tensile strains
are taken as positive. Membrane strains (i.e., in-plane stretching)
were calculated to increase from zero at the deepest point to
a maximum roughly half way up the indentation, whereas the ab-
solute magnitude of the bending strains (i.e., strains from local
changes in curvature) was calculated to be largest at the deepest point
and near the top of the indentation. When combining the two
components, the resulting strains calculated for the top and bottom
geomembrane surfaces are shown in Fig. 4(c). The largest overall
tensile strain in all tests generally occurred on the bottom surface and
along the side slope of the indentation, located roughly half way up.
For example, in Test 4, a peak strain of 27% occurred on the bottom
surface and 1.5 mm away from the deepest point of the indentation.
Three replicate tests were conducted for Test Series 4, denoted as
Tests 4, 4A, and 4B. The deformed shapes leading to maximum
strains in Tests 4A and 4B are presented in Figs. 5 and 6, respec-
tively. For Test 4A, the maximum strain of 18% was calculated at the
side of the indentation and 3.5 mm away from the deepest point. The
shape of the indentation producing the maximum strain in Test 4 and
Test 4A are similar, but the size of two indentations varies. The
indentation in Test 4 is 2 mm deep and 12 mm wide, and for Test
4A, the indentation is almost the same depth but is slightly wider
[Fig. 5(a)]. The indentation producing the maximum strain of 27% in
Test 4B is 8 mm deep and 45 mm wide [Fig. 6(a)], which is almost six
times deeper and four times wider than the indentation in Test 4, but
the resulting maximum strain values for both indentations are es-
sentially the same. For Test 4B, the maximum strain also occurred on
the side of the indentation and 8 mm away from the deepest point.
The key point observed from these measurements is that the Fig. 5. (a) Measured deformed shape of geomembrane indentation;
steepness of the side slope of the indentation and its width to depth (b) calculated membrane and bending components of strain; (c) calculated
ratio are the factors governing the resulting strain. In all indentations, strains for the top and bottom surfaces of the geomembrane for the in-
the maximum strain was located at the steeper side of the indentation dentation with the maximum strain in Test 4A (OL1; 3,000 kPa)
because as the indentation becomes deeper and narrower, the

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Fig. 6. (a) Measured deformed shape of geomembrane indentation; (b) calculated membrane and bending components of strain; (c) calculated strains
for the top and bottom surfaces of the geomembrane for the indentation with the maximum strain in Test 4B (OL1; 3,000 kPa)

elongation on the side of the slope tends to become larger, resulting


in higher tensile strains.

Variability and Selection of Maximum Strain


Strains were calculated for at least five of the most prominent
indentations in the lead sheet for each test. This was sufficient to
identify the three largest strains from each test that are reported in
Table 3.
Triplicate tests were conducted for five of the nine test series. For
Test Series 6, 7, and 8, the maximum strain obtained from each test
in a series was one of the three largest strains values calculated for
the series. For example, Test Series 6 (Tests 6, 6A, and 6B) gave
maximum strains of 14, 13, and 15%, respectively, and these were Fig. 7. Largest calculated strains from three replicate tests of Test
the three largest values for the entire test series. Here, the re- Series 4 (OL1; 3,000 kPa)
producibility of the maximum strain was generally good in replicate
tests. In contrast, Fig. 7 shows that for Test Series 4, the four largest
strains (27, 27, 26, and 22%) were from Tests 4 and 4B, whereas the strain for Test 3A. Based on the evaluation of all the data, it was
fifth largest (18%) was the maximum from Test 4A. Similarly for considered that the largest three values of strains calculated for a test
Test Series 3, the four largest strains (18, 17, 18, and 17%) were for series were the best representation of strain for a series instead of
Tests 3 and 3B, with the fifth largest strain (15%) being the maximum considering the maximum value from each test. For the remainder of

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Fig. 8. Largest strains calculated from each test series showing the
effect of pressure and overliner

the test series conducted in duplicate, the maximum strain for each test
was among the largest two strain values from that series.

Effect of Overliner Grain Size and Distribution


The influence of pressure on geomembrane strain using OL1, which
corresponds to the coarser bound of the cases reported by Lupo and
Morrison (2007), is shown in Fig. 8. The two or three largest values
of strains from each test series are plotted in Fig. 8. For the duplicate
tests conducted at 500 kPa, a maximum tensile strain of 6% was
calculated, which increased to 8% at 1,000 kPa. Triplicate tests were
conducted at pressures of 2,000 and 3,000 kPa, and the maximum
strains were 18 and 27%, respectively. There is an overall trend of
maximum strain increasing linearly proportional to the applied
pressure as shown in Fig. 8.
Results with OL1 and OL2 are compared in Fig. 8 and show the
effect of having a smaller maximum and minimum grain size. Both
having a smaller maximum particle size and more sand to fit in around
the larger particles reduced local indentations in the geomembrane
from overliner particles and reduced geomembrane strains by a factor
of nearly 2 at 3,000 kPa for Overliner OL2 relative to OL1. Photo-
graphs of the deformed lead sheets for Overliners OL1 and OL2
following 3,000 kPa are shown in Figs. 9(a and b).
The maximum strains with Overliner OL3 are also plotted in
Fig. 8. Relative to Overliner OL2, only slightly smaller strains were
obtained with OL3 (e.g., 15 versus 12% at 3,000 kPa, respectively).
This reduction is attributed to OL3 having more sand-sized material
surrounding the same maximum particle size than OL2. Fig. 9. Photographs each showing a 270 3 270-mm region of the lead
sheet following experiments conducted at 3,000 kPa with (a) OL1 from
Soil Protection Layer Test 4; (b) OL2 from Test 6; and (c) 150-mm-thick silty sand protection
layer and OL1: the circled regions denote major indentations scanned in
In municipal solid waste landfill applications, thick ( .150 mm) sand the lead sheet; there were no discernible indentations in (c)
protections layers have been shown to be very effective at limiting
local indentations and hence strains in geomembranes from overlying
coarse, poorly graded gravel (Tognon et al. 2000; Brachman and differential settlements of the underliner. A comparison of the maxi-
Gudina 2008b; Dickinson and Brachman 2008; Rowe et al. 2013a). A mum strains observed for tests conducted at 3,000 kPa is shown in
150-mm-thick silty sand protection layer was therefore placed be- Fig. 10.
neath OL1 and on top of the geomembrane in Test Series 15 to see how
effective it would be at limiting strains with heap leach overliner
materials. The practicality and availability of using sand at any par- Discussion
ticular site would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. No
discernible indentations were observed in the lead sheet after the test It is of interest to examine how the calculated strains compare with
[Fig. 9(c)]. The resulting strains were no greater than 2% for duplicate long-term tensile strain limits that have been proposed in the liter-
tests conducted at 3,000 kPa. The calculated strains here were not ature. For example, Peggs et al. (2005) suggested a maximum al-
from overlying gravel particles but from minor (around 0.2 mm) local lowable strain for HDPE geomembranes of 6–8% (depending on its

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J. Geotech. Geoenviron. Eng. 2014.140.


a simulated landfill liner with constant applied pressure (Abdelaal
et al. 2013). Therefore, it is suggested here that consideration be
given for limiting tensions in the geomembrane when designing
a protection layer from materials above the geomembrane. However,
there is a paucity of data as to what magnitude local tensile strains in
HPDE geomembranes should be limited. There may be different
acceptable limits for heap leach and municipal solid waste landfill
applications. Presumably, selection of this limit should involve
considerations of what is an acceptable leakage rate, operating tem-
peratures, and time frames involved.
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Summary and Conclusions


Fig. 10. Influence of protection layer on the maximum strain in geo-
membrane at 3,000 kPa
Physical experiments were conducted in a 590-mm-diameter pres-
sure vessel at applied vertical pressures up to 3,000 kPa for 100 h at
a temperature of 21°C to quantify the tensile strains that developed
stress-crack resistance; 6% being relevant to the geomembrane used in a 1.5-mm-thick HDPE geomembrane for heap leach mining
in these experiments), whereas Seeger and Müller (2003) proposed applications with one particular silty sand soil tested beneath the
a more stringent limit of 3% for municipal solid waste landfill geomembrane as the underliner. Although the geomembrane did not
geomembranes. puncture in any of the short-term tests conducted, tensile strains that
A 6% strain limit is reached at an applied vertical pressure of only developed in the geomembrane were quantified. The following may
500 kPa with coarse Overliner OL1 directly on top of the geo- be concluded for the conditions examined.
membrane, which corresponds to heap leach pad depths of less than
25 m. Taking even the most optimistic proposed limit of 8% strain, Influence of Grain Size and Grain Size Distribution
the results here suggest that pressures no greater than 1,000 kPa can
be applied with OL1 directly on top of the geomembrane. At higher Three different soil materials directly above the geomembrane
pressures, the finer Overliners OL2 and OL3 were effective at re- (overliners) were tested, and it was found that both grain size and
ducing geomembrane strains, but even with these materials, linear grain size distribution impacted the maximum tensile strain. The
interpolation of test results to lower pressures suggests a 6% strain coarsest overliner tested was OL1 (a coarse gravel with some sand),
limit is exceeded at vertical pressures greater than approximately which matched the upper bound gradation of heap leach cases
1,000 and 1,400 kPa for OL2 and OL3 (heap-leach pad depths of reported by Lupo and Morrison (2007). The grain size distribution
around 50 and 70 m, respectively). Thus, although a finer overliner curve for overliner OL2 (gravel and sand) had a similar shape as OL1
may help reduce tensile strains for the high vertical pressures but a smaller maximum particle size and more fine sand; this case
expected in deep heap leach pads, the silty sand protection layer matched Lupo and Morrison’s finer bound of overliner materials. In
tested would be able to reduce geomembrane strains to below even terms of grain size, the maximum strain decreased from 18% with
the more stringent 3% value. In such a case, it is likely that the tensile OL1 to 12% with OL2 at an applied pressure of 2,000 kPa. Overliner
strains will be governed by more global strains induced by differ- OL3 (sand and gravel) had the same maximum particle size and
ential settlements of the base and along side slopes as discussed by similar amount of fines as OL2, but with a more well-graded dis-
Lupo (2010), which should be assessed and mitigated with good tribution than OL2. Thus, in terms of grain size distribution, the
geotechnical design. It is acknowledged that there are challenges in maximum strain decreased from 12% with OL2 to 9% with OL3 at
placing, and retaining after rainfall, silty sand as an overliner on the an applied pressure of 2,000 kPa.
geomembrane for anything but relatively flat slopes that would need
to be carefully considered. Protection Layer
The concept of limiting local tensile strains for heap leach geo-
membranes may appear to be a departure from the current prevailing Even with the coarse overliner OL1 and at an applied pressure of
heap leach approach of solely preventing geomembrane puncture in 3,000 kPa, a silty-sand soil protection layer was very effective at
relatively short-term (e.g., 24–100 h) performance tests. Clearly, if it reducing local indentations in the geomembrane from overliner
punctures in a short-term test, then those holes will be present in the particles and was able to reduce the tensile strain in the geo-
long term; however, if the geomembrane does not experience short- membrane to 2%.
term puncture because of its significant ability to withstand short-
term ductile elongation, that does not necessarily mean that it will not
Practical Implications
rupture in the longer term from environmental stress cracks if tensile
strains are excessive. Hence, there is a need for discussion among For a given vertical pressure, the results quantify how the geo-
stakeholders of these sorts of heap leach applications as to the membrane strains may be reduced either by having a finer overliner
potential implications of these large tensile strains. Conceivably, an or by adding a soil protection layer. If the 6% limit proposed by
argument could be made that stress relaxation will reduce the tensile Peggs et al. (2005) is adopted as the tensile strain limit for the
stresses associated with these indentations, and thereby there will be geomembrane, pressures no greater than 500 kPa can be applied with
no rupture by environmental stress cracking. However, despite re- OL1 directly on top of the geomembrane, which corresponds to
laxation of tensile stresses, tensile strains remain, and with small a heap leach pad depth less than 25 m. At higher pressures of 2,000
long-term creep displacements of materials beneath the geo- and 3,000 kPa (heap leach pad depths of around 100–150 m), a finer
membrane, there may be propagation of a crack in a geomembrane overliner reduced the geomembrane strains, but the maximum
indentation such that it can rupture and form a hole even though values exceeded 6% by factors of at least 1.5–2, even for the finest
it was subjected to constant applied force (Sabir 2011) or in overliner examined. At these high pressures, a sand protection layer

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Knight Piésold, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and the CTT
mations and calculated stresses of high-density polyethylene pipes
Group. Funding for the development of the research infrastructure under very deep burial.” Can. Geotech. J., 46(6), 650–664.
was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario
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Lupo, J. F. (2010). “Liner system design for heap leach pads.” J. Geotextile
Innovation Trust, the Ontario Research Fund Award, and Queen’s Geomembr., 28(2), 163–173.
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Fellowship to Dr. Rowe is gratefully acknowledged. struction approaches in the mining industry.” J. Geotextile Geomembr.,
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Notation maximum allowable strains in polyethylene and polypropylene geo-
membranes.” Proc., Geo-Frontiers 2005 (CD-ROM), ASCE, Reston,
The following symbols are used in the paper: VA.
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D30 5 grain size by which 30% of the soil by mass is finer;
depletion from an HDPE geomembrane with a sand protection layer.”
D50 5 grain size by which 50% of the soil by mass is finer; Geosynthetics Int., 20(2), 73–89.
D60 5 grain size by which 60% of the soil by mass is finer; and Rowe, R. K., Brachman, R. W. I., Irfan, H., Smith, M. E., and Thiel, R.
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