Granular Materials for Transport Infrastructures : Mechanical performance of coarse–fine mixtures for unbound layers through DEM analysis

Abstract: Granular materials are widely used as unbound layers within the infrastructure system playing a significant role on performance and maintenance. However, fields like pavement and railway engineering still heavily rely on empirically-based models owing to the complex behaviour of these materials, which partly stems from their discrete nature. In this sense, the discrete element method (DEM) presents a numerical alternative to study the behaviour of discrete systems with explicit consideration of the processes at particulate level governing the macroscopic response. This thesis aims at providing micromechanical insight into the effect of different particle sizes on the load-bearing structure of granular materials and its influence on the resilient modulus and permanent deformation response, both of which are greatly influenced by the stress level. In order to accomplish this, binary mixtures of elastic spheres under axisymmetric stress are studied using DEM as the simplest expression for gap-graded materials, which in turn also can be seen as a simplification of more complex mixtures.First, the effect of the fines content on the force transmission at contact level was studied. Results were used to define a soil fabric classification system where the roles of the coarse and fine fractions were defined and quantified in terms of force transmission.A behavioural correspondence between numerical mixtures and granular materials was established, where the mixtures were able to reproduce some of the most significant features regarding the resilient modulus and permanent strain dependency on stress level for granular materials.A good correlation between soil fabric and performance was also found. Generally, higher resilient modulus and lower deformation values were observed for interactive fabrics, whereas the opposite held for instable fabrics.Mixtures of elastic spheres are far from granular materials, where numerous additional factors should be considered. Nevertheless, it is the author’s belief that this work provides insight into the soil fabric structure and its effect on the macroscopic response of granular materials.