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An introduction to

geosynthetics (3.1)

¾ The key functions associated with geosynthetics

¾ Manufacturing processes
¾ Measuring the properties of geotextiles - index tests
¾ Specifying geotextiles - matching required functions to types of
¾ Other properties to consider
¾ Quality Assurance - manufacturing and independent testing
¾ About GEOfabrics Limited

Geosynthetics are usually sheet materials supplied in roll form and they are used in many geotechnical
applications. There are five categories - geogrids, geomembranes, geonets, geotextiles (subdivided into
woven and non-woven) and related products (materials such as erosion mats & cuspates) that do not fall
naturally into one of the other four categories.

There are six main functions that these materials can provide and many products provide one of more of
these, particularly the geocomposites which, as the name suggests, are made up of multiple components.
The functions are:

Separation Drainage

Prevent Collect/convey

Preventing intermixing of soil types Allowing fluids and gases to flow

or soil/aggregate to maintain the both through the plane of the
integrity of each material yet still material. Commonly used as
allow the free passage of components in geocomposites used
liquids/gases. Commonly used in for surface water runoff or for gas
between sub-base/subgrade and collection under membranes.
around drainage materials.

Filtration Protection

Prevent movement Prevent

of fill particles puncture

Restraining soil particles subject to Preventing or limiting localised

hydraulic forces whilst allowing the damage to an adjacent material,
passage of liquids/gases. This usually a geomembrane used to line
function is often partnered with a lagoon or a landfill. Thick
separation e.g. in coastal defence geotextiles prevent puncture or
applications or wrapped drains. excessive strain in the membrane.


additional strength

Providing additional strength to soils Isolating one material form another.

to enable steep slopes and soil The most frequent use of this
structures to be constructed, and function is in landfills where
allow construction over weak and impermeable linings prevent
variable soils. contamination of surrounding soils.

Manufacturing processes

Needlepunched, non-wovens geotextiles

Needlepunching is a mechanical process which, rather than

using heat, fixes the fibres relative to each other by
entanglement. Reciprocating banks of barbed needles compact
loose fibre into a labyrinth of interconnected fibres.

The use of continuous filament fibres creates geotextiles with the

separation/filtration functions. Using staple, crimped fibres
enables the production of thick geotextiles that are suitable for
heavy-duty filtration/protection and they also provide the
additional function of protection.

Heat-bonded, non-wovens geotextiles

Continuous filament fibres are extruded from spinnerets to form a swirling pattern of fibres across a web. The web passes through a
pair of heated rolls or an oven, where the fibres are bonded together to form a uniplanar geotextile. This method generates low-cost
products that are used in sub-base/subgrade separation.

Geogrids Woven and knitted geotextiles

Three processes. The first heats and stretches polymer that has Manufactured by weaving or knitting yarns of drawn polymer.
been pre-punched with a regular pattern of holes. The second These yarns may be flat tape, mono-filament, multi-filament, and
comprises bundles of polymer fibres in a mesh pattern that are fibrilatted (flat tape slit and twisted). The yarn type dictates the
coated with bitumen or a PVC (polyvinyl chloride). The third properties of the finished geotextile.
takes sheathed bundles of fibres that are then welded.

Geonets Geomembranes

Polymer mesh which is extruded in a tubular form & slit in the Polymer sheet that is extruded flat or as a tube to be slit in the
machine direction to create a sheet. Essentially a layer of rods machine direction. The textured (roughened) versions are for
overlaying a second layer at an angle. A third layer can be use on slopes where higher levels of interface friction angles are
introduced to increase thickness and, thus, flow capacity. required.


Heat and/or adhesives are used to create single components by bonding barriers, drains, filters, protectors
and reinforcement in different combinations. The objective is to produce materials which are multi-functional
and are faster to install than the individual components. Interface friction becomes an issue when
geosynthetics are placed on slopes and bonded materials address this potential problem.

Measuring the properties of geosynthetics - some index tests

Index tests enable a direct comparison to be made between different geotextiles. They are also used for
quality control during manufacturing. Most UK specifications either reference a product or set a performance
specification based on three or four tests with required values.

Tensile strength, pore size, water flow, CBR puncture resistance and cone drop perforation are the most
common properties to be listed in a specification. Mass per unit area is also frequently specified though this
is not necessary, as it is not a performance characteristic.

Direct comparison of published data is possible when the same test methods are used which in the UK
should be EN standards. Any supplier of geotextiles to a UK contract is required to submit the measured
properties of their materials to the latest published European Standards. Engineers should not accept data
from individual member countries or non-member countries. For instance, the USA publish data from
different non-comparable tests (ASTM standards), often in non SI units. Wherever an ISO test standard has
been published the USA, European and all other countries belonging to the International Standards
Organisation have agreed the test standard internationally using SI units (e.g. kN and m - not lbs and ft).

As a member of the European Union, engineers in the UK are required to specify geotextile test methods as
published by the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN). These test standards are published and ratified
by the British Standards Institute (BSI) and given a BS designation. Many of these standards were originally
part of BS6906 which have now been adopted at European level with EN designations. Some test standards
have international recognition and are ratified by the International Standards Organisation (ISO).

CE marking

CE marking (part of the Construction Products Directive - 89/106/EEC) is intended to remove technical
barriers to trade within European states. Standardisation of testing methods and procedures has been
driven by the need to simplify specifications and, in turn, designing with Eurocodes.

The CE mark will provide a guarantee that, for a particular application, the properties for a product match
those published by its manufacturer. This should not be confused with ISO 9001 certification, which applies
to a management quality system.

All manufacturers of building and construction products in the designated European states, are required to
comply with the CE marking requirements. This became mandatory for geotextiles as of October 2002 and
product packaging should reflect this.

Not all of the 84 potential tests for geosynthetics apply to every product. The ultimate application dictates
which tests are appropriate. The CEN TC189 committee, comprising representatives from across the
industry, including consultants, manufacturers, testing laboratories and universities, was responsible for
establishing this criteria.

The DTLR are the awarding authority in the UK and, following a factory inspection by independent auditors
to verify procedures, together with further inspections of records and equipment calibration, GEOfabrics
Limited has obtained CE marking for the majority of their HP and MP geotextiles.

Tensile strength A sample is clamped between two
jaws and strained at a constant rate
BS EN ISO 10319 until failure. Maximum load and
(replacing BS6906 Part 1) extension are recorded.

Characteristic opening size A sample is placed in a sieve shaker

(as used for soil particle size analysis).
BS EN ISO 12956 O90 graded sand is flushed through the
(replacing BS6906 Part 2) geotextile using a water.

Water flow or permeability The rate at which water flows through

the geotextile at a 100mm hydraulic
BS EN ISO 11058 head is measured and quoted in litres
(replacing BS6906 Part 3) per square metre per second.
Wide-width tensile testing
CBR puncture resistance A sample is clamped in a ring and a
50mm diameter plunger is pushed
BS EN ISO 12236 against the centre of the sample
(replacing BS6906 Part 4) extending it until failure. Maximum
load and plunger displacement are
Tensile creep Very rarely used and only where soil
reinforcement is involved
BS EN ISO 13431
(replacing BS6906 Part 5)
Cone Drop Perforation A sample is clamped in a ring and a
45" cone allowed to free fall half a
BS EN 13433 metre on to it. The diameter of any
(replacing BS6906 Part 6) resulting perforation is measured.

In-plane flow capacity This is not often used. It measures the

water flow within the plane of the
BS EN ISO 12958 sample under various pressures and
(replacing BS6906 Part 7) hydraulic gradients.

Shear resistance Again very rarely used. Shear

characteristics are measured in a
BS EN ISO 12957 - 1 300mm box with the sample fixed to
(replacing BS6906 Part 8) one half.
CBR puncture testing.

Specifying geotextiles – matching required functions to types of geotextile

When specifying geotextiles it is important for the Engineer to match the best features of any one type of
geotextile to the application for which it is intended. Then to specify only those index values that are relevant.

Example: Select a geosynthetic for use in a road construction where the underlying soils are a fine silt and a
minimum amount of sub-base is required.

Functions required in order of priority: reinforcement, separation, some filtration

Relevant index tests to specify: tensile strength, tensile elongation, (possibly creep if loaded for long
period i.e. even after consolidation), puncture resistance, puncture extension, cone drop perforation,
pore size, permeability

Relative values to specify: (see chart) high tensile strength, high puncture resistance, low extension,
medium cone drop, low pore size, medium to low permeability (specific values depends on calculation
beyond the scope of this guide)

Geotextile type to investigate: woven flat tape

Example: Select a geosynthetic for use under rock armour in a coastal defence scheme. The maximum
armour weight is 4t, the underlying beach material is a coarse sand and ideally the armour should be placed
directly onto the geosynthetic.

Functions required in order of priority: filtration, separation, some reinforcement

Relevant index tests to specify: permeability, pore size, tensile strength, tensile elongation, cone
drop perforation, puncture resistance, puncture extension, thickness, in-plane flow

Relative values to specify: (see chart) high permeability, low pore size, medium tensile strength,
high tensile elongation, low cone drop perforation, high puncture resistance, high extension, high
thickness (specific values depends on calculation and can be found in the GEOfabrics' Handbook for
Coastal Geotextiles available on request)

Geotextile type to investigate: needlepunched, non-woven (using staple fibres)

Mechanical comparison
Tensile load Tensile extension Puncture resistance Puncture displacement Cone drop perforation

Woven tapes High Low High Low Medium

filaments Medium Low High Low Medium

Non-woven heat bonded Low Medium Low Medium Low

continuous fibres Low Medium Medium High Medium

staple fibres Low High High High High

Net Low High Low High n/a

Grid High Low n/a n/a n/a

Hydraulic comparison
Permeability Pore size In-plane flow
(related to thickness)
Woven tapes Low Low None

filaments High High None

Non-woven heat bonded Medium Medium None

continuous fibres High Low Low

staple fibres High Low Medium

Net High High High

Grid n/a n/a n/a

Other properties for consideration

Whilst most geosynthetics are manufactured from polymers, which are relatively inert materials, some are
more susceptible to chemical, biological or mechanical damage than others. Durability must be considered
for both installation and in service. To quote a leading consultant “a layer of cling film has a lower
permeability than a metre of compacted clay”. Areas to consider are:

UV resistance

The performance of most polymers is degraded, to different extents, by ultra violet light (UV). The polymer
bonds breakdown and this can result in a loss in properties. If geosynthetics are to be exposed for more
than 30 days in the UK, it is recommended that they should contain a well-dispersed UV inhibitor that
protects the polymer chains. Carbon black is the most cost-effective agent for these purposes.
Specifications should therefore include an accurate description of the type of UV protection and the
concentration by weight - 1% is typical. This should be the concentration of the carbon black and not the
weight of carbon black dispersion that is added to the polymer. Carbon black comprises very fine particles
that are difficult to handle. It is normal to mix the particles with a carrier to make a dispersion that is easier to
handle. So, 2.5% by weight of the dispersion could be added but this equates to 1% carbon black.

Chemical and biological resistance

Some geosynthetics are used in aggressive

environments such as in the containment of landfills
and contaminated land. As the rate of chemical attack
relates directly to the surface area available it is
important for Engineers to request proof of stability
with the specific chemicals present. This information,
generated by the polymer manufacturers, should be
available from the geosynthetic manufacturer. In some A long-term leachate immersion test has been running in
instances it may be necessary to carry out a specific GEOfabrics' laboratories for four years. The samples are
immersion test at elevated temperatures using the removed periodically for examination.
actual mix of chemicals.

Fire resistance

Geosynthetics are used in applications where they are accessible by the public (e.g. rock face cladding) and
in applications such as tunnel linings, where flammability can be a consideration. There are specific tests to
measure flammability. There are inflammable polymers and others that can by made inflammable, to varying
degrees, by the inclusion of additives.

Mechanical damage resistance

The rigours of installation can often be more demanding than the ultimate in-service requirements. Site
damage tests can be specified such as rock drop tests for coastal applications. Laboratory tests have been
developed to closely simulate in-service conditions. One of these is the Cylinder test that evaluates the
performance of geotextile protector, liner and drainage aggregate combinations.


Geosynthetics are frequently used where surface or ground water regulations apply. Evidence must be
provided to confirm that no materials will migrate or be extracted from the geosynthetic. Alternatively, that
the nature or the levels of any extracts do no present a risk to the environment.

Quality Assurance – manufacturing and independent testing

It is important for the Engineer that the product supplied consistently meets the specification. The
specification should include references to the frequency of testing and which key test standards are required.

Some tests show greater sensitivity than others for different geosynthetics e.g. the puncture resistance test
is a very good indication of quality for a needlepunched, non-woven staple fibre geotextile whereas a
permeability test will show very little change with varying strength. It would be irrelevant and a waste of
resources to check permeability regularly in this example. The answer would always be the same!

Samples should be taken from production at intervals specified in the QC procedures and tested by the
manufacturer. QC Certificates relating to the roll numbers delivered to site should be supplied to the
Engineer. In addition, the Engineer should require the Contractor to supply samples from geosynthetics
delivered to site and supervise their testing, either with the manufacturer or an independent accredited
laboratory. Accreditation in the UK is usually achieved under the UKAS NAMAS scheme which sets
stringent standards and procedures.

About GEOfabrics

GEOfabrics Limited is an ISO 9001-accreditated manufacturer based in West Yorkshire. The Company
manufactures geocomposites and needlepunched, non-woven geotextiles based on staple fibres. Services
offered include:

¾ Advice from Chartered Civil Engineers with long experience in the use of geosynthetics.

¾ Solutions to specific problems - geocomposites are often manufactured that are project-specific

¾ NAMAS accredited laboratory guaranteeing consistent quality and site-specific testing facilities such as
the cylinder testing for landfill design.

¾ Roll widths to a maximum of 6m (widest in Europe) for minimum overlap costs and fast installation.

¾ A comprehensive design-guide library together with a technical library of published papers and case
studies to deal with specific questions.

¾ Please do not hesitate to telephone, fax or visit the GEOfabrics' web site if you require advice.

GEOfabrics Limited is a Corporate Member of the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS) which exists to
promote good practice in the industry and encourage innovation in this field. For more information, or if you
would like to become a member of the UK Chapter of the IGS, go to www.igs-uk.org.

There has been a vast amount of geosynthetics research carried out and there is an immense wealth of
practical experience acquired over the last 30 years. In many instances there is more knowledge on their
use than with traditional materials. To quote Dr Malcolm Bolton, Senior Soil Mechanics Lecturer at
Cambridge University, “We now know more about the forces in a soil block reinforced with a geotextile than
we do for a gravity solution”