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Ground Improvement (2004) 8, No.

1, 17–31 17

Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles

 Geotechnical Research Centre, The University of Western Ontario, Canada; y Terraprobe
Consulting Geotechnical and Environmental Engineers, Brampton, Ontario, Canada

The electro-osmotic treatment technique may be used to La technique de traitement électro-osmotique peut être
increase the strength of the soil and load-carrying capacity utilisée pour augmenter la résistance du sol et la capacité
of a foundation and reduce the potential for foundation porteuse de fondations ainsi que pour réduire le potentiel
settlement. In this study, electro-osmotic treatment was d’affaissement de celles-ci. Dans cette étude, le traitement
employed to increase the axial and lateral capacity of piles électro-osmotique a été utilisé pour augmenter la capacité
installed in a soft sensitive clay in a laboratory experi- axiale et latérale de piles installées dans une argile tendre
mental programme. The experimental work involved two et sensitive dans un programme d’essais en laboratoires.
phases. First, a small-scale (bench size) set-up was con- Tout d’abord, une petite installation (sur établi) a été
structed and used to investigate the effects of electrical construite et utilisée pour rechercher les effets du traite-
treatment on the capacity of model piles. The results ment électrique sur la capacité des piles modèles. Les
obtained from the small-scale investigation were then used résultats de cette étude à petite échelle ont ensuite été
in the planning and execution of the second phase of the utilisés pour le planning et l’exécution de la seconde phase
study, which involved a large-scale testing programme. de l’étude, qui mettait en uvre un programme d’essai
Three cells filled with soft sensitive clay were used in the grandeur nature. Trois cellules remplies d’argile tendre et
small-scale testing programme. The soil in two cells was sensitives ont été utilisées dans le programme d’essais à
treated, one with constant direct current and the second petite échelle. Le sol dans deux cellules a été traité, l’un
with intermittent current, and the third was not treated avec un courant direct constant, l’autre avec un courant
and was used as the control. The results obtained from the intermittent, le troisième n’ayant pas été traité afin de
small-scale tests showed that the pullout capacity of the servir de référence. Les résultats obtenus avec les essais à
piles in the treatment cells decreased but their lateral petite échelle ont montré que la capacité de décrochage
capacity increased, compared with the control pile. The des piles dans les cellules traitées diminuait mais que leur
reduction in pullout capacity was attributed to overtreat- capacité latérale augmentait par rapport à la pile de
ment of the soil in the vicinity of the pile, causing soil référence. La réduction de la capacité de décrochage a été
shrinkage and separation at the pile–soil interface. The attribuée à un traitement excessif du sol dans le voisinage
overtreatment was probably due to excessive treatment de la pile, causant un retrait et une séparation du sol à
effort manifested in a high voltage gradient and a long l’interface pile-sol. Le sur-traitement était probablement
treatment time. The soil shrinkage did not affect the lateral dû à un effort excessif se manifestant dans une montée
capacity, which had actually increased by 36% over that of trop rapide de courant et un long temps de traitement. Le
the control. The applied electric potential and the treat- rétrécissement du sol n’affectait pas la capacité latérale,
ment duration were reduced in the large-scale testing qui avait en fait augmenté de 36% par rapport à celle du
programme. The results obtained from the axial load tests modèle de référence. La force électrique appliquée et la
showed that the treatment had increased the capacity of durée du traitement ont été réduits dans le programme
the piles above that of the control piles by up to 45%. d’essais grandeur nature. Les résultats obtenus par ces
essais de charge axiale ont montré que le traitement avait
Keywords : pile foundations; electro-osmosis, load augmenté la capacité de piles, de jusqu’à 45% au-dessus
tests, soil improvement de celle de piles de référence.

List of symbols
D diameter (mm) ke coefficient of electro-osmotic permeability (m2 /sV)
I electric current (A) kh hydraulic conductivity (m/s)
IP plasticity index (%) ki electro-osmotic coefficient of water transport (m3 /sA)
ca undrained pile – soil adhesion factor (kPa) qA electro-osmotic flow rate (m3 /s)
cv coefficient of consolidation (m2 /s) qa flow rate through a capillary (m3 /s)
c9 cohesion (kPa) qh electro-osmotic flow (m3 /s)
ie electrical potential gradient (V/m) u pore water pressure (Pa)
ih hydraulic gradient Æ adhesion factor
 friction angle (8)
 strain (%)
(GI 2154) Paper received 25 April 2002, revised 15 September 2003, 9 effective friction angle (8)
accepted 2 October 2003 ªw unit weight of water (kN/m3 )

1365-781X # 2004 Thomas Telford Ltd

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El Naggar and Routledge

Introduction until the hydraulic force (due to high pore water pressures
at the cathode) balances the electro-osmotic force driving the
Piles are used in many parts of the world to support pore water towards the cathode (Mitchell, 1993).
structures founded on soft soils. These soils cause consider- The theory of electro-osmotic consolidation superimposes
able concern for engineers, owing to their low strength and hydraulic and electric induced flows through an incompres-
potential for large settlement. A technique that may be used sible soil mass and assumes a one-dimensional flow condi-
to alleviate these problems is electro-osmosis (Casagrande, tion where the electrodes are semi-infinite plates. Applying
1952). Electro-osmosis is the movement of water from the the boundary conditions for a closed anode and open
positive electrode to the negative electrode in a saturated soil cathode, it has been shown that (Esrig, 1968)
mass under a direct current (d.c.) electric potential. The ke
application of electro-osmosis to an anodic (positive elec- u¼ ªw V (2)
trode) pile can result in the consolidation of soil in the vicinity
of the pile and a corresponding increase in the shear strength. where u is the pore water pressure, kh is the hydraulic
The load-carrying capacity of the pile could be increased and conductivity, ªw is the unit weight of water and V is the
its cost could be reduced considerably if the soil could be voltage at a specific point. Equation (2) indicates that, for a
strengthened sufficiently to provide the resistance necessary system with a closed anode, a negative pore water pressure
to carry the weight of the structure. Therefore the proper is produced that is proportional to the voltage at a particular
application of electrical treatment to pile foundations may be point.
an effective technique to strengthen foundations supporting
structures on soft soils. The use of electro-osmotic treatment
to improve the capacity of pile foundations in a soft sensitive Previous investigations
clay was investigated in this study. Previous investigations that focused on using electro-
Casagrande pioneered the application of the technique of osmotic treatment on piles include: Soderman and Milligan
electro-osmosis to improve the engineering properties of soils (1961), Bozozuk and Labrecque (1969), and Butterfield and
(Casagrande, 1952). Several investigators have used electro- Johnston (1980). Only the Soderman and Milligan (1961)
osmosis since then for the treatment of soils, including the investigation will be presented below, as it shows the
consolidation of soils (Esrig, 1968; Shang et al., 1996), the applicability and effectiveness of the technique in the field.
strengthening of soft clays (Bjerrum et al., 1967; Lo et al., 1991), During the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway, a
the stabilisation of soils (Casagrande, 1952; Chappell and bridge was built across the Big Pic River on the north shore
Burton, 1975), and increase of the capacity of friction piles of Lake Superior. As part of the design process, H-piles were
(Soderman and Milligan, 1961; Butterfield and Johnston, 1980). driven to varying depths and were subjected to static load
tests. The results from these tests indicated that the pile
capacity decreased with an increase in the embedment
Theoretical background depth, and the required design capacity could not be
The basis of electro-osmotic theory is that cations are achieved. It was decided to apply electro-osmotic treatment
attracted to a cathode and anions to an anode. These ions to the 99 piles of the west pier using a large 600–1000 A, 70–
(cations and anions) exert a viscous force on the water 120 V direct current diesel generator. Pile static load tests
surrounding them as they migrate towards their respective that were performed before and after the treatment showed
electrodes. A soil containing negatively charged clay parti- a significant increase in the pile capacity to more than
cles has a number of cations far exceeding the number of double that of the original values after 34 days of treatment.
anions. Thus the net water flow is in the direction of the Further tests conducted by Milligan (1995) 33 years later
cathode (Mitchell, 1991). confirmed that the effects of the treatment were permanent,
The most widely accepted theory for electro-osmosis is and that there has been no reduction in the capacity of the
based on the Helmholtz–Smoluchowski model, which as- piles nor any increase in the settlement of the piers.
sumes that the flow rate through soil capillaries is governed Much of the previous research on electro-osmotic treat-
by the electrical force causing flow and the frictional force ment both experimentally and in the field has focused on
opposing flow (Mitchell, 1993), and is given by the improvement of soil properties for the entire soil mass.
qA ¼ ke ie A (1) However, the objective of this research is to increase the
capacity of friction piles by utilising electro-osmosis to
3 2 improve a limited zone of the soil surrounding the pile.
where qA (m /s) is the electro-osmotic flow rate, ke (m /s V)
is the coefficient of electro-osmotic permeability, ie (V/m) is
the electrical potential gradient, and A (m2 ) is the total cross-
sectional area normal to the direction of flow. Experimental programme
The Helmholtz–Smoluchowski model is independent of the The testing programme in this study involved two phases.
pore size, as equation (1) suggests. Therefore electro-osmosis In the first phase, electrical treatment was applied to a small
can be effective in the movement of water in fine-grained soils. sample of soil enclosed in small-scale (bench size) testing
The movement of water from the anode to the cathode cells. A small capacity power supply and small size electro-
results in consolidation between the electrodes, particularly des were used to apply the electrical treatment. The results
in the vicinity of the anode, proportional to the quantity of of the first phase were then implemented in the planning
water removed. Transporting water away from the anode and design of the second phase, which involved a large-
results in the development of negative pore water pressures, scale test set-up. The initial properties of the soil samples
which in turn lead to an increase in effective stresses, and a used in both phases were the same.
corresponding increase in shear strength. The provision of
drainage at the cathode ensures that the pore water
pressures and effective stresses will remain relatively un- Soil properties
changed at the cathode. The application of a direct current The soil used in the present investigation originated from
electric field will continue to consolidate a given sample Moose Creek, Ontario. It was an extremely soft clay, grey in

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles

colour and completely liquefied (disturbed) upon arrival at Small-scale electro-osmotic test
the laboratory. Several tests were conducted to evaluate the
composition, consistency and strength of the soil, which are In the first phase of this study three identical small-scale
summarised in Table 1. The non-clay and clay minerals were testing cells were constructed to investigate the use of
determined from several X-ray diffraction traces and are also electro-osmosis to improve the performance of piles installed
shown in Table 1. Finally, the electrical conductivity of the in soft clay. The first cell was subjected to an intermittent
soil and pore water were evaluated to be 0.07 and 0.10 S/m current of 1 min on/1 min off, the second cell was subjected
respectively. to a constant current, and the third cell was used as the
control with no electro-osmotic treatment.
Table 1. Properties of the soft clay
Experimental set-up
Clay: % 72
The cells were constructed of 12.7 mm thick Plexiglas , as
Silt: % 26
Moisture content: % 70 shown in Fig. 1. Reinforcement was used to provide the
Specific gravity 2.83 support needed to withstand the confining pressure applied
Undrained shear strength: kPa 4–7 to the soil during the initial consolidation when preparing
Liquid limit: % 57 the sample for electro-osmotic treatment. A rubber mem-
Plastic limit: % 26 brane provided an airtight seal and was used to apply the
Plasticity index: % 31 confining pressure (see Fig. 1).
Electrical conductivity of soil: S/m 0.07
The soft clay was placed in the testing cells above a base
Electrical conductivity of pore water: S/m 0.10
layer of sand, which was separated by a geotextile. The cells
Mineral content
were fitted with a drainage valve within the sand layer and
Clay minerals
a stainless steel piezometer to monitor the dissipation of
Chlorite: % 46
Illite: % 20 pore water pressure during consolidation. Steel piles
Kaolinite: % 8 234.0 mm long, 60.5 mm in diameter and with 3.2 mm wall
Non-clay minerals thickness, fitted with loading caps 20 mm high and
Quartz: % 14 152.4 mm in diameter, were pushed into the clay to a depth
Na-Feldspar: % 4 of 224 mm (see Fig. 2). A geotextile was placed on top of the
Calcite: % 5 clay and was covered by an additional layer of sand. Finally,
Dolomite: % 2 the rubber membrane and steel cap were placed on top of
 Evaluated using the Wenner four-electrode method (ASTM, 1994). the cell and the consolidating pressure was applied.

Air flow
valve Pressure
valve Rubber
6·35 mm 31·8 mm
Steel cap membrane

133·4 mm
Threaded Plexiglas®
3·18 mm

133·4 mm

82·6 mm
Angle iron

50·8 mm

76·2 mm 152·4 mm 152·4 mm 152·4 mm 152·4 mm 76·2 mm

Fig. 1. Schematic of small-scale electro-osmotic testing cell (internal dimensions 610 mm 3 610 mm 3 381 mm internal dimensions)

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El Naggar and Routledge

Dial gauge natural consolidation due to self-weight during this short

Collection Anode
Cathode ()
Cathode () period would have any significant effect on the soil proper-
Wax ties evaluated immediately after treatment.
50mm cover

Clay 30mm
Electro-osmotic set-up
224mm After the consolidation phase was completed, the sand
and geotextile above the clay were removed and four steel
cathodes were placed around the piles to be treated. The
cathodes were 254 mm long and 9.5 mm in diameter, and
were perforated to allow for the removal of pore water due
to the positive pore water pressures generated during
50mm Sand electro-osmotic treatment, as described by Lo et al. (1990,
(a) 1991). Each cathode was filled with sand to aid in the
movement of pore water, and was attached to clear vinyl
tubing and a collection bottle, as shown in Fig. 2. The
cathodes were placed at a distance of 2D (121 mm) from
Cathode the piles, as shown in Fig. 2, in order to concentrate the
treatment effort in the vicinity of the pile and maximise the
efficiency of treatment. In addition, a distance of 2D would
Pile 120·90 mm be suitable in field applications that involve the treatment of
a pile group. The piles in the treatment cells and the
cathodes were then connected to a d.c. power supply (maxi-
12·7 mm
mum of 1 A and 40 V). In the case of the intermittent current
cell, a VWR controller and timer (model 5010) was used to
9·53 mm 30·23 mm control the treatment application.
70·20 mm

Initial soil properties

Plexiglas® The initial soil properties measured after the completion
of the consolidation phase and prior to the application of the
treatment included the moisture content and undrained
shear strength. Measurements were taken at four locations
Fig. 2. Schematic of electro-osmotic testing cell: (a) elevation view; (b) plan within each testing cell. The locations were selected near the
middle of each side of the testing cells to avoid interference
with the electro-osmotic treatment. Further, the tests were
Consolidation of soil sample performed at two depths beneath the surface: 100 mm and
The soil was allowed to consolidate under an applied 200 mm. The results indicated that the properties of the soil
pressure of 100 kPa for 42 days and under its self-weight for in the three cells were uniform prior to the start of electro-
an additional 117 days prior to the electro-osmotic treatment. osmotic treatment. The average moisture content of the three
There were two reasons for this. First, the procedure cells varied between 51.1% and 52.5%, and the average
provided samples that were uniform for comparison pur- undrained shear strength, found using 33 mm lab vane,
poses and, second, it ensured that most of the consolidation varied between 17.5 kPa and 17.7 kPa (Table 2).
and changes in the soil engineering properties due to ageing
and natural consolidation under self-weight occurred prior
to the treatment. Thus any changes in the deformation and Electro-osmotic treatment
strength characteristics detected after the application of The electro-osmotic treatment was started after the com-
electro-osmosis would be mostly due to the treatment. pletion of the consolidation. The applied voltage gradient
Piezometers connected to pressure transducers indicated was originally selected as 50 V/m for the pile subjected to
that approximately 80% of the pore water pressure had intermittent current and 25 V/m for the pile subjected to
dissipated during consolidation. Although the soil was not constant current. These values were chosen to prevent soil
entirely consolidated prior to electro-osmotic treatment, the desiccation and heating (Casagrande, 1983). However, the
tests were initiated with the knowledge that the results from voltage gradient of the intermittent current was increased to
the treated cells would be compared with those from the 50 V/m after 24 h. Each pile was subjected to a total
control cell, which would implicitly account for any further treatment time of 184 h. Fig. 3 shows the decrease in current
consolidation due to self-weight. Further, as the duration of during treatment for each of the cells in terms of both actual
the tests amounted to only 7 days, it is not expected that current decrease and percentage decrease. Current decrease

Table 2. Moisture content and undrained vane shear strength before and after treatment
Initial average moisture content: Final average moisture content near Final average moisture content near
% pile: % cathodes: %

Cell WC: % cu : kPa WC: % cu : kPa WC: % cu : kPa

Intermittent 51.1 17.5 48.4 26.7 50.6 19.6
Constant 51.9 17.7 44.1 27.1 51.5 19.8
Control 52.5 17.7 52.9 19.6 50.8 19.4

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles


Increased voltage
gradient from Intermittent cell: actual current
25 V/m to 50 V/m
Constant cell: actual current

Current: A



0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200
Duration: h

0 Increased voltage
gradient from
10 25 V/m to 50 V/m Intermittent cell: actual current

20 Constant cell: actual current

Percentage decrease: %







0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200
Duration: h

Fig. 3. Current decrease during electro-osmotic treatment: (a) actual current decrease; (b) percentage decrease of current for intermittent cell and
constant cell

during treatment is primarily the result of a decrease in the subjected to intermittent and constant current was 1.34 mm
water content in the vicinity of the anode leading to an and 1.47 mm respectively.
increase in soil resistivity, and ultimately corrosion of the
anode. Fig. 3 also indicates that there was a greater current
decrease in the cell subjected to the constant current than the Geotechnical investigation
intermittent current, undoubtedly as a result of the greater A comprehensive geotechnical investigation was per-
treatment effort experienced by this cell. The energy con- formed to evaluate the effects of electro-osmotic treatment
sumption was evaluated for the two treated piles and found on the soil properties. This investigation included the meas-
to be 64.0 W h for the pile subjected to the intermittent urement of moisture content, undrained shear strength
current and 91.1 W h for the pile subjected to the constant obtained from laboratory vane tests, and isotropically con-
current. solidated-undrained (CIU) triaxial tests. Fig. 5 shows the
The settlement of the piles (anodes) due to consolidation percentage change of average moisture contents against
during electro-osmotic treatment was monitored with the distance from the pile normalised by the corresponding
use of several dial gauges, and is shown in Fig. 4. As initial moisture content. The results show that the moisture
expected, the rate of settlement of the treated piles during content decreased in the vicinity of the anode for the treated
the first two days was high, followed by further settlement, cells, and remained relatively constant near the cathode.
but at a reduced rate. The total final settlement of the piles Note from Fig. 5 that the moisture content for the treated

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El Naggar and Routledge


0·2 Increased voltage

gradient from
25 V/m to 50 V/m


Intermittent pile
Displacement: mm

0·6 Constant pile

Control pile





0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200
Duration: h

Fig. 4. Pile settlement during electro-osmotic treatment

Intermittent cell
Constant cell
Control cell
Locations 9, 10
Locations 1, 2, 3, 4
5, 6, 7, 8
Change in moisture content: %

Between cathode Locations

locations 9, 10 5, 6, 7, 8

Between pile and cathode

locations 15,16
Adjacent to pile
10 locations 1,2 3, 4



0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
Distance from centre of pile: mm

Fig. 5. Percentage change in average moisture content with location

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles

cells decreased at all locations, and more so for the constant samples retrieved from locations near the pile and cathodes
current cell than for the intermittent current cell. for an applied consolidation pressure of 100 kPa. Note from
Figure 6 and Table 2 show the average percentage change Fig. 7(b) that the stiffness and strength of the soil adjacent to
in undrained vane shear strength against distance from the the pile were improved by the treatment; also, the samples
pile normalised with the initial strength prior to treatment. from the constant current cell displayed more improvement
There was a substantial increase in the undrained shear than those from the intermittent cell. Further, Fig. 7(b) shows
strength near the piles in both treated cells. It is evident that the soil near the cathodes was adversely affected by the
from the results that the undrained shear strength increased treatment, as it showed softening in terms of decreased
by over 50% near the treated piles as a result of the deviatoric stress for the same strain values, compared with
treatment. the control cell.
The effects of the treatment on the stress–strain character-
istics were investigated by performing a number of CIU
triaxial tests. The consolidation (deformation) characteristics Pullout capacity and lateral pile capacity
of the soil can be inferred from the consolidation portion of After the electro-osmotic treatment was completed, the
the CIU triaxial tests. During the consolidation phase of a pullout resistance and lateral capacity of the piles were
typical CIU triaxial test the volume of pore water is evaluated. The pullout tests were conducted first, followed
monitored, and the change in pore water volume is plotted by the lateral capacity tests. The tests were performed using
against square root of time. the cable-pulley loading systems shown in Fig. 8. Both load
Standard sample sizes of length 100 mm and diameter tests were conducted in accordance with the ASTM quick
50 mm were tested at a constant strain rate of 0.045%. Fig. load test method, as described in the Canadian Engineering
7(a) shows the results from samples retrieved from near the Foundation Manual, 3rd edn (Canadian Geotechnical Society,
pile and near the cathodes and consolidated at 200 kPa. Note 1992). Load increments of 19.6 N (2.0 kg) were applied every
from Fig. 7(a) that the electro-osmotic treatment reduced 2.5 min until failure, for both pullout and lateral pile tests.
both the volume of pore water change and the time required The ultimate load for the pullout resistance was defined as
for consolidation compared with the control sample for the load corresponding to the settlement at the onset of the
locations adjacent to and near the pile. The opposite is true final linear region of the load–settlement curve (Poulos and
for samples retrieved from locations near the cathodes. It Davis, 1980). For lateral capacity, the ultimate load was
can be concluded that the consolidation characteristics were defined as the load corresponding to a displacement equal
improved for the samples subjected to the constant current to 10% of the pile diameter (Terzaghi, 1942).
rather than for the samples subjected to the intermittent Figure 9(a) shows the results of the pullout load tests
current. This is attributed to the greater treatment time performed after completion of the electro-osmotic treatment.
experienced by the constant current cell than by the This indicates that the piles in the treated cells actually had
intermittent current cell. a reduced capacity compared with the control pile. The
Figure 7(b) shows the results of triaxial tests performed on ultimate pullout capacity was evaluated from the load


Intermittent cell
Adjacent to
pile locations 1,2,3,4 Constant cell

Control cell

Percentage change in vane shear strength: %

Locations 9, 10

20 Locations 5, 6, 7, 8
Locations 11, 12, 13, 14

Past cathode
Between cathode locations
locations 9, 10 11, 12, 13, 14
Locations 1, 2, 3, 4 Cathode
locations 5, 6, 7, 8


0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350
Distance from centre of pile: mm

Fig. 6. Average percentage change in vane shear strength with location

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El Naggar and Routledge

0 0
Intermittent cell Intermittent cell
Constant cell Constant cell
5 5·0
Control cell Control cell

10 10·0

∆V : cm3


∆V : cm3
20 20·0

25 25·0

30 30·0

35 35·0
0·000 5·000 10·000 15·000 20·000 25·000 30·000 35·000 0·0 5·0 10·0 15·0 20·0 25·0 30·0 30·5
1/2 1/2
t : min t 1/2 : min1/2
(a) (b)

120 120
Intermittent cell
Constant cell
100 100 Control cell

80 80
σ′1  σ′2: kPa

σ′1  σ′2: kPa

60 60

40 40
Intermittent cell
Constant cell
20 Control cell 20

0 0
0 5·0 10·0 15·0 20·0 25·0 0 5·0 10·0 15·0 20·0 25·0
ε: % ε: %
(c) (d)

Fig. 7. Results from triaxial tests: (a) consolidation near pile; (b) consolidation near cathodes; (c) stress–strain characteristics near pile; (d) stress–strain
characteristics near cathodes

displacement curve and was found to be 248 N, 258 N and creased because of an increase in the shear strength of the
445 N for the piles treated with intermittent current, constant soil in the vicinity of the pile. Unlike the pullout resistance,
current, and the control pile, respectively. This decrease in the lateral capacity has not been affected by the soil
capacity is attributed to shrinkage of soil in the immediate separation, because the pile is pushed towards the soil
vicinity of the pile and separation at the pile–soil interface during the lateral loading. In this case, soil shrinkage will
due to overtreatment. Overtreatment could be due to a not affect the observed pile capacity.
voltage gradient that was too great, a treatment time that
was too long, or a combination of both. In either case, the
result is soil shrinkage and separation that occur in the Large-scale electro-osmotic test
vicinity of the anode. Ho (1990) discussed the soil–electrode
interface and the poor contact that may result from electro- In the second phase of the study two identical large-scale
osmotic treatment. Soil shrinkage is due primarily to the testing cylindrical cells were used. The first was subjected to
drying out of the soil, and appears to be the cause of the electro-osmotic treatment; the second was used as a control.
decrease observed in the pullout resistance of the piles. This This test was developed using information gathered from
would not occur in the field because there would be enough the small-scale test conducted in the first phase.
overburden, and any soil shrinkage would be limited to the
uppermost part of the soil, which is usually ignored in the
design. The effect of soil separation on the pile capacity Set-up
would be minimal. The cells were made of steel with an internal diameter of
After completion of the pullout tests, the piles were 1343 mm, a height of 1524 mm, and a thickness of 12.7 mm
repositioned and the lateral load tests were conducted. The (Fig. 10). The base of the cell was sealed using silicone to
results of the lateral load tests are shown in Fig. 9(b). Note prevent any water leakage. A drainage valve was located
that the performance of the piles in the treatment cells is near the base of the cell to allow the pore water to escape
superior to that in the control cell. The ultimate lateral during the consolidation phase. The treatment cell was
capacity was found to be 445 N, 445 N and 327 N for the earthed for safety reasons and in order to ensure zero
piles subjected to intermittent current, constant current and potential.
the control pile, respectively. The lateral capacity has in- The soft clay was placed in the cylinders above a layer of

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles


Pulley Steel cable
Dial 400

Load: N
Pulley 300

Control pile

200 Intermittent pile

Constant pile

Load 100
Weights hanger

0 0·5 1·0 1·5 2·0 2·5 3·0 3·5
Displacement: mm

Dial Pulley
cable 700
Intermittent pile

600 Constant pile

Control pile

Load: N


Fig. 8. Schematic for small-scale loading set-up: (a) axial loading; (b) lateral 200

sand and corresponding geotextile, as was the case with the

small-scale tests. This sand layer provided a drainage path 0
0 2 4 6 8 10 12
to the drainage valve during the consolidation phase. A Displacement: mm
25 mm thick wood plate was then placed on the surface of (b)
the clay, to be used as a platform for the distribution of the
dead load on the clay surface during consolidation.
Fig. 9. Results of pile load tests: (a) axial capacity; (b) lateral capacity

Electro-osmotic set-up
Five steel pipe piles and corresponding cathodes were
Consolidation placed in the treatment cell after the consolidation phase
The soil was consolidated prior to treatment to ensure was completed. The relative locations are shown in Fig. 10.
uniformity of the samples and so that the effects of electro- Another five identical piles were placed in the control cell at
osmosis observed would be representative of what would be relative locations similar to those in the treatment cell. The
expected in the field. For this purpose a pressure of 10 kPa piles were spaced at a distance of 416 mm (nearly 7D)
was applied to the clay surface for a period of 310 days centre-to-centre to avoid any possible interference during
while monitoring settlement. The total final settlement was loading (that is, interaction through the soil). The piles are
greater than 100 mm for both cylinders, and the average 1250 mm long and 60.5 mm in diameter with a wall
degree of consolidation was estimated to be 63% for each of thickness of 3.2 mm (except for pile J, which has a wall
the samples. The samples were consolidated under self- thickness of 4.8 mm). A loading cap 152.4 mm in diameter
weight for an additional 389 days prior to the installation of and 20 mm thick was welded to the head of each pile used
the piles. This ensured that a large portion of the consolida- in the pile load tests. Further, the piles were sandblasted to
tion of the soil and changes in soil properties had occurred ensure that any rust, coating, and/or grease was removed
before treatment. Hence it is not expected that self-weight and to ensure the uniformity of the piles. The pile arrange-
consolidation would have any significant effect on the ment was identical in the control cylinder to that in the
geotechnical properties evaluated after treatment, as the treated cylinder.
piles were treated and tested within a 3 day period. Further, The cathodes were placed a distance of 2D (122 mm) from
the results from the treated cylinder were compared with the pile face in the treated cylinder. The cathodes were steel
those from the control cylinder to account for any additional pipes 1130 mm in length and 17.5 mm in diameter and were
self-weight consolidation effects. perforated and filled with sand to aid in the movement of

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El Naggar and Routledge

Anode ()

Cathode ()
335 mm Cathode ()

Wax layer

915 mm

1030 mm
1183 mm
25 mm

268 mm
153 mm

100 mm Sand Electrical



129·5 mm

121·0 mm

60·5 mm 121·0 mm

203·0 mm

152·4 mm Cathode

17·5 mm


vane strength


Fig. 10. Schematic of large-scale testing cell: (a) elevation view; (b) plan view

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles

pore water and were connected to a collection bottle. The Table 3. Treatment parameters for the electrically treated piles
small electrode spacing was intended to improve the soil Energy
properties adjacent to the pile only, in order to reduce the Treatment consumption: Current
treatment effort and cost. The treatment beyond the influ- Pile time: h Wh decrease: %
ence zone of the pile would only increase the energy F 1.2 1.6 2.6
consumption with little or no increase in the pile capacity. A 4.3 6.4 2.1
Finally, the piles and the cathodes were connected to a d.c. G 12.0 16.9 6.2
power supply (HP model 6012B) with a capacity of 50 A at E 24.0 35.4 5.9
60 V. J 72.3 107.8 7.7

Initial soil properties prior to treatment

The initial moisture content and undrained shear strength
of the soil were evaluated prior to the electro-osmotic the current flow through each of the piles was nearly
treatment. The locations for these tests were selected to identical (with the exception of pile A), indicating that the
avoid interference with the treatment, and the results soil was indeed uniform. Further, the decrease in current
indicated that the samples were relatively uniform. The with duration was minimal, especially in comparison with
average moisture content was 68.1% for the treatment the results obtained for the small-scale tests. The reduced
cylinder and 67.5% for the control cylinder, and the voltage gradient has significantly reduced the decrease of
corresponding average undrained shear strengths were current with treatment time, thus leading to a greater
10.3 kPa and 10.2 kPa respectively. electro-osmotic efficiency. The total energy consumption and
percentage current decrease for each of the treated piles are
presented in Table 3. The energy consumption ranged
Electro-osmotic treatment between 1.6 W h and 107.8 W h, and the decrease in the
Electro-osmotic treatment was initiated after the comple- current varied between 2.1% and 7.7%.
tion of the consolidation phase. The voltage gradient for the
large-scale electro-osmotic test was set at 30 V/m to prevent
soil heating and desiccation. The treatment duration was Geotechnical investigation
varied for different piles, so that the optimum duration that The moisture content, undrained shear strength and
would yield the maximum increase in pile capacity could deformation characteristics of the soil were evaluated after
then be evaluated by testing the piles and comparing the completion of the electro-osmotic treatment. The moisture
results with those obtained from the control cylinder. The content values for samples retrieved from locations near the
treatment duration varied from 1 h to 72.3 h, as shown in piles are plotted against the depth in Fig. 12(a). This figure
Table 3. indicates that, in general, a slight decrease in moisture
The current decrease with treatment duration is presented content has occurred near the piles, but the results were far
in Fig. 11 for all piles within the treated cylinder. Note that from consistent with depth. Fig. 12(b) shows the undrained


Pile F
Pile A
Pile G

Pile E

Pile J
Current: A




0 5 10 15 20 25
Duration: h

Fig. 11. Current decrease during electro-osmotic treatment per pile

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El Naggar and Routledge

Moisture content: % 0
50 55 60 65 70 75 80 5
0 Pile D
10 Pile F
Initial Pile A
15 Control
0·2 Pile F Pile E

∆V: cm3
Pile A Pile A Pile G
25 Pile G
Pile E Pile D
0·4 30 Pile F
Depth: m

Pile G
35 Pile E

0·6 40


0·8 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
t 1/2: min1/2

1·0 80
70 Pile A
Pile D Pile E
60 Trial
Vane strength: kPa
0 5 10 15 20 Pile F
σ 1′  σ 3′ : kPa
0 Pile G
Initial average Trial
Pile F Pile D
0·2 30 Pile F
Pile A
Pile A
Pile G Pile E
10 Pile G
Pile E
Depth: m

Pile J 0
0·6 0 5·0 10·0 15·0 20·0
ε: %

Fig. 13. Results from triaxial tests, 100 kPa: (a) consolidation, (b) stress–
strain characteristics

shows that there was no appreciable gain in strength due to

the electro-osmotic treatment.

Fig. 12. Variation of: (a) final moisture content; (b) vane shear strength Axial and lateral pile capacity
After the duration of electro-osmotic treatment specified
for each of the treatment piles had elapsed, the pile was
shear strength values obtained from vane tests performed load-tested to evaluate its axial capacity. Further, the lateral
near the treated piles. There was a negligible increase in the capacity of the last pile to be tested (Pile J) was evaluated
undrained shear strength near all treated piles except for upon completion of the corresponding axial capacity test.
Pile J. The treatment time might have been insufficient for The control piles were tested at the same time and in the
any significant movement of pore water at the location of same manner to evaluate their capacity. The axial tests were
measurement, and hence no increase in shear strength was performed with the apparatus shown in Fig. 14(a). A
noted. It seems likely that shear strength increase has hydraulic jack was used to apply load to the pile head, while
occurred in the soil adjacent to the piles but has not yet a load cell and linear voltage displacement transducer
reached the location of the vane test because of the limited (LVDT) were used to evaluate load and displacement
treatment time. This localised shear strength increase was respectively. As shown in Fig. 14(b), the lateral tests used a
evident from the increase in the pile capacity, as will be cable-pulley loading system similar to that used in the
discussed later. small-scale tests, and an LVDT was used to monitor the
The consolidation characteristics were estimated based on displacement.
the data obtained from the CIU triaxial tests. The change of As it was difficult to apply small load increments with the
volume against time for samples consolidated at 100 kPa hydraulic jack, a constant loading method was adopted. The
is shown in Fig. 13(a). Note that the treatment effect on piles were loaded at a rate of approximately 25 N/s until
the consolidation characteristics of the soil is negligible. The failure. For the lateral load tests, load increments of 98 N
limited treatment time was not sufficient to affect the (10 kg) were applied every 2.5 min until failure was reached.
consolidation characteristics of the samples. Similar results The ultimate axial and lateral capacities of the piles were
were obtained in terms of stress–strain characteristics evaluated using methods described in the small-scale tests.
obtained from these samples, as shown in Fig. 13(b). These The results of the axial load tests are shown in Fig. 15(a)
samples were 100 mm long and 50 mm in diameter, and for the treated piles and an average pile from the control
tested at a constant strain rate of 0.051%. Fig. 13(b) further cylinder. Note that the axial capacity of the treated piles has

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles

Frame as shown in Table 4. This is attributed to soil disturbance

Load cell
Data acquisition system during the installation process, as described previously.
Hydraulic jack Therefore the effects of the treatment on the lateral pile
Hydraulic pump
Steel plate capacity could not be assessed.
Data acquisition system LVDT
Data acquisition system

Undrained pile–soil adhesion

The undrained pile–soil adhesion factor (ca ) is an impor-
tant parameter in the evaluation of the capacity of all types
of friction pile. It represents the shear resistance at the pile–
soil interface. For undrained conditions, ca (Pa) is given by
(Poulos and Davis, 1980)
Strain gauges
Pu  Ab (cu Nc þ  vb ) þ W
Ca ¼ (4)
where Pu (N) is the ultimate pile capacity, L (m) is the length
of the pile, C (m) is the circumference of the pile, Ab (m2 ) is
Data acquisition system the area of the pile toe, Nc is a bearing capacity factor, vb
LVDT (Pa) is the effective vertical stress in the soil at the level of
the pile toe, and W (N) is the weight of the pile.
The results obtained for the pile–soil adhesion factor for
both the treated and control piles are shown in Table 4.
These results clearly indicate that the value of ca increased
for all treated piles with the exception of Pile J. Pile A
displayed the greatest pile–soil adhesion, with a value of
5.3 kPa, and Pile G had a value of 5.1 kPa. These values of ca
corresponded to percentage increases of 44% and 39%
respectively above the average of the control piles. However,
Load the treatment duration of Pile A was nearly one third that of
Weights hanger
Pile G (4.3 h and 12.0 h respectively). The results obtained
for Pile J showed no increase in adhesion, because of the
disturbance this pile experienced during driving.

Fig. 14. Schematic for large-scale loading set-up: (a) axial loading; (b) lateral
loading The use of electro-osmotic treatment to increase the axial
and lateral capacity of piles in a soft sensitive clay has been
investigated in this study. The experimental work included
two phases: a small-scale (bench size) investigation and a
large-scale investigation. To evaluate the effects of the
increased substantially above that of the control. Further, treatment, piles were subjected to pullout tests, axial tests
Pile A and Pile G had the highest capacity, with treatment and lateral tests, in addition to a comprehensive geotechnical
times of 4.25 h and 12.0 h respectively. These results can be investigation.
seen in Table 4. Comparing the results obtained from the In the small-scale investigation, the pullout capacity of the
treated piles to those of the control piles, an average of 34% piles in the treated soil was found to be smaller than that of
increase in the capacity of the electrically treated piles could the control. This was attributed to the overtreatment of the
be attributed to the treatment. Further, for Pile A, which soil in the vicinity of the pile, probably as a result of both a
showed the greatest increase in axial capacity, a 45% high voltage gradient and long treatment time. The over-
increase in the pile capacity could be attributed to the effect treatment results in soil shrinkage and separation at the
of the treatment. pile–soil interface due to soil drying. However, this would
The results obtained for Pile J showed a slight increase in not be significant in the field owing to the presence of
capacity, although this pile had the longest treatment time of enough overburden to prevent soil separation. The lateral
72.3 h. The observed behaviour is probably due to distur- capacity of the piles increased after the electrical treatment.
bance of the soil during the installation of the pile. Pile J had This was the result of increased shear strength near the pile
a larger wall thickness of 4.8 mm and was probably plugged as evaluated from laboratory vane and consolidated un-
from the beginning of the jacking process, which rendered drained triaxial tests. The triaxial test also revealed that the
the pile a closed-end pile. Thus displacement of the soil consolidation that occurred in the vicinity of the pile im-
during the pile installation was large, leading to a large proved the stress–strain characteristics of the clay.
disturbance in the soil and a reduction in its strength. The results obtained from the large-scale investigation
The lateral pile load test was performed on both Piles I showed that the axial capacity of the piles increased as a
and J after completion of the axial load tests. The results result of the application of a d.c. electric potential. The pile
obtained from the lateral load tests are shown in Fig. 15(b). subjected to 4.3 h of treatment displayed a 45% increase in
It is apparent from this figure that electro-osmotic treatment its axial capacity compared with that of the controls. This
has not increased the lateral capacity of the treated pile (Pile pile also showed a pile–soil adhesion, ca ¼ 5.3 kPa, com-
J). The ultimate capacity of the control pile was estimated as pared with an average value of 3.7 kPa obtained for the
903 N, in comparison to 805 N obtained for the treated pile, control piles. The results of the CU triaxial tests performed

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El Naggar and Routledge



Load: N

Pile F
1000 Pile A
Pile G
Pile E
Pile J
Pile H

0 2·0 4·0 6·0 8·0 10·0 12·0
Displacement: mm




Load: N

Pile J
Pile I



0 5·0 10·0 15·0 20·0 25·0
Displacement: mm

Fig. 15. Results of treated pile load tests: (a) axial; (b) lateral

Table 4. Ultimate axial and lateral pile capacity and adhesion factor
Percentage increase based on average
Pile Treatment time: h Axial pile capacity: N Lateral pile capacity: N ca : kPa of control piles: %
F 1.2 1850 – 4.9 33
A 4.3 1990 – 5.3 44
G 12.0 1970 – 5.1 39
E 24.0 1880 – 4.8 31
J 72.3 1500 805 3.7 1
B – 1600 – 4.3
C – 1170 – 3.5
D – 1300 – 3.8
H – 1420 – 3.1
I – – 903 – –

on samples retrieved from the treated soil indicated that no treatment time effort applied to these samples. However, a
or very little improvement in the consolidation or stress– substantial increase in the undrained vane shear strength of
strain characteristics had occurred for soil subjected to 24 h the soil subjected to the longest treatment time (72.3 h) was
of treatment or less. This was expected, because of the small noted.

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Effect of electro-osmotic treatment on piles

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