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Cellular Confinement Systems (CCS, also known as geocells) are widely used in construction for erosion control, soil stabilization on flat ground and steep slopes, channel protection, and structural reinforcement for load support and earth retention. Typical cellular confinement systems are made with ultrasonically welded high-density polyethylene (HDPE) that are expanded on-site to form a honeycomb-like structure which may be filled with sand, soil, rock or concrete.
- 1 History of cellular confinement
- 2 Recent marketing plays in cellular confinement technology
- 3 How it works
- 4 Applications
- 5 Sustainable construction
- 6 See also
- 7 References
History of cellular confinement
Research and development of cellular confinement systems (CCS) began with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in September 1975 to test the feasibility of constructing tactical bridge approach roads over soft ground. Engineers discovered that sand-confinement systems performed better than conventional crushed stone sections. They concluded that a sand-confinement system could be developed that would provide an expedient construction technique for building approach roads over soft ground and that the system would not be adversely affected by wet weather conditions.  These early efforts led to the civilian commercialization of the first cellular confinement system known as Geoweb® by the Presto Products Company. The cellular confinement system was made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) that was light weight, strong and durable. This new Geoweb cellular confinement system was used first for load support applications in the United States in the early 1980s; second for slope erosion control and channel lining in the United States in 1984 and; third for earth retention in Canada in 1986. Research on cellular confinement in these application areas in cooperation with Presto Products also started during the 1980s.
Research by Drs. Bathurst and Jarrett discovered that cellular confinement reinforced gravel bases are “equivalent to about twice the thickness of unreinforced gravel bases” when placed over a saturated peat sub-base. Further, 1.25 mm (50 mil) HDPE performed better than single sheet reinforcement schemes (geotextiles and geogrids) and was more effective in reducing lateral spreading of the infill material under loading than conventional reinforced bases. In terms of the effectiveness of confinement, geocells have more attractive features due to its 3D structure than any other planar geosynthetic reinforcement. Since this early work, the results of large-scale triaxial test on isolated geocells has demonstrated that cellular confinement imparts apparent cohesion to cohesionless compacted granular material on the order of 169 kPa - 190 kPa (3500 psf - 4000 psf). Cellular confinement systems are now recognized as an important technology when applied to load support (Webster, 1986 and Bathurst & Jarrett, 1988) under roads and rail lines, gravity and reinforced earth retaining wall systems (Crowe, Bathurst & Alston, 1989), (Bathurst, Crowe & Zehaluk, 1993), slope stabilization and erosion control, channel lining systems (Engel, P. & Flato, G. 1987) (Simons, Li & Associates, 1988) (Wu & Austin, 1992) and other innovative uses. Cellular Confinement Systems (CCS, also known as geocells) are widely used in construction for erosion control, soil stabilization on flat ground and steep slopes, channel protection, and structural reinforcement for load support and earth retention. Typical cellular confinement systems are made with ultrasonically welded high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or Novel Polymeric Alloy strips that are expanded on-site to form a honeycomb-like structure which may be filled with sand, soil, rock or concrete.
Recent marketing plays in cellular confinement technology
Despite the effectiveness of the geocell technology, particularly in slope and channel applications, its use in base reinforcement of paved roads and railways was thought to be limited by some. (Yuu, et al. 2008).) Recent research in the last few years on geocell reinforcement for roadway applications has been conducted at the University of Kansas as well as at other leading research institutes around the world, to understand the mechanisms and influencing factors of geocell reinforcement, evaluate its effectiveness in improving roadway performance, and develop design methods for roadway applications (Han, et al. 2011).
Sponsored research was conducted on HPDE geocells as well as geocells manufactured from a novel polymeric alloy (NPA), called Neoloy, developed by PRS. NPA is claimed to be a composite polymeric alloy based on nano-fibers (polyester and nylon) in a polyolefin matrix. The NPA purports to combine the properties of polyethylene and polyester, thus enabling a more effective use of geocells in new critical applications, such as reinforcement for earth retention, load support in pavements and railroads and more. (Leshchinsky, et al., 2009). HDPE remains the commonly used material for geocells, but sponsored researchers have questioned its suitability for long-term applications (Leshchinsky, et al., 2009). This concern is not backed up by “facts on the ground” as HDPE geocells are often used in critical applications, such as in the base layer of major highways and railways, subject to long-term heavy static and dynamic loading.
Geocells made from NPA are marketed as significantly better in ultimate bearing capacity, stiffness, and reinforcement relative to geocells made from HDPE. NPA geocells are sold as having showed better creep resistance and better retention of stiffness and creep resistance particularly at elevated temperatures, although....even if true...this would be unimportant as creep is not a factor in geocell paving design due to passive adjacent cell pressures and the elevated temperatures are not a factor in buried base support design.
Application vs. long-term performance
HDPE-based geocells have been successfully installed in thousands of projects worldwide. However, it is incumbent to differentiate between low load applications, such as slope and channel applications, and new heavy-duty applications, such as in the base layer of asphalt pavement structures of heavily trafficked motorways and highways. While all polymeric materials used in geocells creep over time and under loading, the question is; what is the rate of degradation, under which conditions, how will this impact performance, and when will it fail? Thousands of load support applications show that HDPE remains the safe and predominant choice.
The lifespan of geocells in slope protection applications, for example, is less critical as vegetative growth and root interlock stabilize the soil. This in effect compensates for any long-term loss of confinement in the geocells. Similarly, load support applications for low volume roads that are not subject to heavy loading usually have a short design life; therefore any minor loss of performance is tolerable. However, in critical applications such as reinforcement of the structural layer of asphalt highway pavements, long-term dimensional stability is critical. The required design life for such roads under heavy traffic loads is typically 20–25 years, requiring verifiable long-term durability. HDPE has a life of over 50 years and unlike other materials, is inert and stable.
Development of standards for testing geocells
Standards for geocells have been in place for more than 30 years.
ISO procedures commonly utilized by many other industries to evaluate performance have not been adopted by the some of the geocell industry. Standards for geocells were proposed and under discussion by leading experts in geosynthetics in ASTM technical committee D-35. Under the leadership of industry experts such as Bryan Wedin, proposed changes are reviewed. The goal is to codify lab tests of individual strips and virgin materials that are used by most manufacturers today.
How it works
A Cellular Confinement System when infilled with compacted soil creates a new composite entity that possesses enhanced mechanical and geotechnical properties. When the soil contained within a geocell is subjected to pressure, it causes lateral stresses on perimeter cell walls. The 3D zone of confinement reduces the lateral movement of soil particles while vertical loading on the contained infill results in high lateral stress and resistance on the cell-soil interface. These increase the shear strength of the confined soil, which:
- Creates a stiff mattress or slab to distribute the load over a wider area
- Reduces punching of soft soil
- Increases shear resistance and bearing capacity
- Decreases deformation
Confinement from adjacent cells provides additional resistance against the loaded cell through passive resistance, while lateral expansion of the infill is restricted by high hoop strength. Compaction is maintained by the confinement, resulting in long-term reinforcement.
Cellular Confinement Systems (CCS) have been used to improve the performance of both paved and unpaved roads by reinforcing the soil in the subgrade-base interface or within the base course. The effective load distribution of CCS creates a strong, stiff cellular mattress. This 3D mattress reduces vertical differential settlement into soft subgrades, improves shear strength, and enhances load-bearing capacity, while reducing the amount of aggregate material required to extend the service life of roads. As a composite system, cellular confinement strengthens the aggregate infill, thereby simultaneously enabling the use of poorly graded inferior material (e.g. local native soils, quarry waste or recycled materials) for infill as well as reducing the structural support layer thickness. Typical load support applications include reinforcement of base and subbase layers in flexible pavements, including: asphalt pavements; unpaved access, service and haul roads; railway substructure and ballast confinement; working platforms in intermodal ports; airport runways and aprons, permeable pavements; pipeline road support; green parking facilities and emergency access areas.
Slope and channel protection
The three-dimensional lateral confinement of CCS along with anchoring techniques ensures the long-term stability of slopes using vegetated topsoil, aggregate or concrete surfacing (if exposed to severe mechanical and hydraulic pressures). The enhanced drainage, frictional forces and cell-soil-plant interaction of CCS prevents downslope movement and limits the impact of raindrops, channeling and hydraulic shear stresses. The perforations in the 3D cells allow the passage of water, nutrients and soil organisms. This encourages plant growth and root interlock, which further stabilizes the slope and soil mass, and facilitates landscape rehabilitation. Typical applications include: construction cut and fill slopes and stabilization; road and rail embankments; pipeline stabilization and storage facility berms; quarry and mine site restoration; channel and coastline structures.
CCS systems provide steep vertical mechanically stabilized earth structures (either gravity or reinforced walls) for steep faces, walls and irregular topography. Construction of CCS earth retention is simiplified as each layer is structurally sound thereby providing access for equipment and workers, while eliminating the need for concrete formwork and curing. Local soil can be used for infill when suitable and granular, while the outer faces enable a green or tan fascia of the horizontal terraces/rows utilizing topsoil. Walls also can be used for lining channels and in cases of high flow, it is required that the outer cells contain concrete or cementious slurry infill.
Reservoirs and landfills
CCS provides membrane liner protection, while creating stable soil, berms and slopes, for non-slip protection and durable impoundment of liquids and waste. Infill treatment depends on the contained materials: concrete for ponds and reservoirs; gravel for landfill drainage and leachates, vegetated infill for landscape rehabilitation. Concrete work is efficient and controlled as CCS functions as ready-made forms; CCS with concrete forms a flexible slab that accommodates minor subgrade movement and prevents cracking. In medium and low flow-velocities, CCS with geomembranes and gravel cover can be used to create impermeable channels, thereby eliminating the need for concrete.
CCS is a green solution that makes civil infrastructure projects more sustainable. In load support applications, by reducing the amount and type of infill needed to reinforce soil, the usage of haul and earthmoving equipment is reduced. This in turn decreases fuel use, pollution and the carbon footprint, and at the same time minimizes on-site disruption from dust, erosion and runoff. When used for slope applications, perforated geocells provides excellent soil protection, water drainage and growth stratum for plants. The long-term design life of advanced CCS technology means that maintenance and the associated environmental costs are significantly reduced, as are long-term economic costs.
- Avalanche control
- Gabion, a historic precursor for both erosion control and defense
- Mass wasting
- Washboarding. Cellular confinement acts as a solution to this common problem.
- State of California Department of Transportation, Division of Environmental Analysis, Stormwater Program. Sacramento, CA."Cellular Confinement System Research." 2006.
- Managing Degraded Off-Highway Vehicle Trails in Wet, Unstable, and Sensitive Environments, US Department of Agriculture in conjunction with USDOT, Federal Highway Administration. Page 28. October 2002.
- Webster, S.L. & Watkins J.E. 1977, Investigation of Construction Techniques for Tactical Bridge Approach Roads Across Soft Ground. Soils and Pavements Laboratory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS, Technical Report S771, September 1977.
- Webster, S.L. 1979, Investigation of Beach Sand Trafficability Enhancement Using Sand-Grid Confinement and Membrane Reinforcement Concepts - Report 1, Geotechnical Laboratory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS, Technical Report GL7920, November 1979.
- Webster, S.L. 1981, Investigation of Beach Sand Trafficability Enhancement Using Sand-Grid Confinement and Membrane Reinforcement Concepts - Report 2, Geotechnical Laboratory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS, Technical Report GL7920(2), February 1981
- Webster, S.L. 1986, Sand-Grid Demonstration Roads Constructed for JLOTS II Tests at Fort Story, Virginia, Geotechnical Laboratory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS, Technical Report GL8619, November 1986.
- Engel, P. & Flato, G. 1987, Flow Resistance and Critical Flow Velocities for GEOWEB Erosion Control System, Research and Applications Branch - National Water Research Institute Canada Centre for Inland Waters, Burlington, Ontario, Canada, March 1987
- Simons, Li & Associates, 1988, Full Scale Hydraulic Studies of GEOWEB Grid Confinement System for Minimizing Embankment Damage During Overtopping Flows, Report to Presto Products Co., February 1988
- Bathurst, R.J, Crowe, R.E. & Zehaluk, A.C. 1993, Geosynthetic Cellular Confinement Cells for Gravity Retaining Wall - Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, Geosynthetic Case Histories, International Society for Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, March 1993, pp. 266-267
- Crowe, R.E., Bathurst, R.J. & Alston, C. 1989, Design and Construction of a Road Embankment Using Geosynthetics, Proceedings of the 42’nd Canadian Geotechnical Conference, Canadian Geotechnical Society, Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 1989, pp. 266–271
- Bathurst, R.J. & Jarrett, P.M. 1988, Large-Scale Model Tests of Geocomposite Mattresses Over Peat Subgrades, Transportation Research Record 1188 - Effects of Geosynthetics on Soil Properties and of Environment on Pavement Systems, Transportation Research Board, 1988, pp. 2836
- Yuu, J., Han, J., Rosen, A., Parsons, R. L., Leshchinsky, D. (2008), “Technical Review of Geocell-Reinforced Base Courses over Weak Subgrade,” The First Pan American Geosynthetics Conference & Exhibition proceedings (GeoAmericas), Appendix VII, Cancun, Mexico
- Bathurst, R.J. & Karpurapu, R. 1993, Large-Scale Triaxial Compression Testing of Geocell-Reinforced Granular Soils, Geotechnical Testing Journal, GTJODJ, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 1993, pp. 296303
- Bathurst, R.J. & Crowe, R.E. 1993, Recent Case Histories of Flexible Geocell Retaining Walls in North America, International Symposium on Recent Case Histories of Permanent Geosynthetic-Reinforces Soil Retaining Walls, Tokyo, Japan, November 199
- Yuu, J., Han, J., Rosen, A., Parsons, R. L., Leshchinsky, D. (2008) “Technical Review of Geocell-Reinforced Base Courses over Weak Subgrade,” The First Pan American Geosynthetics Conference & Exhibition proceedings (GeoAmericas), Appendix VII, Cancun, Mexico
- Han, J., Pokharel, S.K., Yang, X. and Thakur, J. (2011). Exploring Geocell Technology for Roadway Applications. Accepted for publication in Roads and Bridges
- Leshchinsky, D. (2009) “Research and Innovation: Seismic Performance of Various Geocell Earth-retention Systems,” Geosysnthetics, No. 27, No. 4, 46-52
- Leshchinsky, D. (2009) “Research and Innovation: Seismic Performance of Various Geocell Earth-retention Systems,” Geosysnthetics, No. 27, No. 4, 46-52