Lead University: Lehigh University
PI: Muhannad T. Suleiman
Co-PIs: Bryan Berger and Derick Brown

The goal of this project is to investigate the use of recently developed flexible bio-inspired materials to improve the mechanical and thermal soil properties and their effects on the performance of geothermal deep foundations. Flexible bio-inspired materials, which are produced by mimicking natural biological processes, have remarkable engineering properties. Geotechnical engineering national research related to civil infrastructures have recently been focusing on bio-mediated soil improvement methods and geo-energy applications (e.g., geothermal energy extracted using deep foundations and other geo-structures).  These two research areas have been dealt with separately.  Research related to geothermal deep foundations, which are used for heating and cooling purposes including bridge de-icing, have been focusing on their mechanical response, while the focus of bio-mediated soil improvement research has been on enhancing the response of infrastructures subjected to natural hazards (e.g. earthquake loading) using the microbial-induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) process, which require the use of bacteria.  The proposed research focuses on improving the mechanical and thermal soil properties using flexible bio-inspired materials (without using the bacteria in soils), up-scaling the process to field scale, and evaluating the concept of creating a bio-inspired thermally-improved engineered transition zone surrounding geothermal deep foundations to enhance their thermal performance, which can make them more feasible renewable and sustainable energy alternative. The concept of creating a bio-inspired thermally-improved zone surrounding the foundation can significantly improve the thermal performance of geothermal foundations. This concept decouples the structural component (pile) and the heat transfer component (bio-inspired thermally-improved zone) allowing for engineering the foundation system according to the structural and thermal demands for each project. In this research, the multi-disciplinary team of principal investigators, who have expertise in geothermal foundations, bio-modification of soils, and bio-inspired materials, are collaborating with a Pennsylvania foundation/ground improvement company (Menard-USA) and strengthening the three years collaboration between the PI and Menard.