May 2015, Vol. 70, No.5


CIGMAT 2015 Draws Large Crowd

The Center for Innovative Grouting Materials and Technology (CIGMAT) and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Houston, hosted a one-day conference and exhibition on at the University of Houston on March 6. More than 350 people comprised of owners, consulting engineers, material supplies, contractors and academia participated in the annual conference.

Dr. Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan, P.E., professor and director of CIGMAT and the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology (THC-IT) opened the conference with welcoming comments on “Infrastructure, Energy, Geotechnical, Flooding and Sustainable Issues Related to Houston & Other Major Cities.”

During the morning’s general session, Dale Rudick, director of the Public Works and Engineering Department for the city of Houston, discussed the city’s plans for maintaining and expanding water, wastewater and other infrastructure facilities in a sustainable manner. Issues related to maintaining public transportation facilities, parks and streets also were discussed. Increased community participation in some of the decision making processes were also discussed. Next, Bill Brudnick, director of planning for the Texas Department of Transportation, and Jason Pettrey, department head for Beaumont Refinary, ExxonMobil, shared several ongoing and new highway projects that will start in the next few years and about the current and future needs for energy around the world, respectively.

Technical sessions

Speakers from around the country took part in four technical sessions during the afternoon. The first panel discussion was on “Water and Wastewater Issues.” Jeffrey Haby, sewer system improvement director for San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS) discussed the city’s experience on reducing sewer system overflows (SSO) in their complex system that integrate the operation, maintenance and capital investment in a comprehensive program. Ivan Langford, director of Gulf Coast Water Authority and Meera Victor, representing Carollo Engineers, jointly presented the current efforts to overcome the impact of drought in the Brazos River basin and developing an approach that meets regulatory requirements while providing the necessary barriers and monitoring regime to ensure the new supply is safe and reliable for customers. Tommy McClung, assistant director, Resource Management Division, city of Houston, discussed the use of smart meters for water distribution. The session was moderated by Rafael Ortega, Lockwood Andrew and Newnam, Houston, TX.

The second session, “Flooding, Infrastructure Maintenance and Offshore Geotechnical Issues”, presented by Mike Talbott, director, Harris County Flood Control, discussed the flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. This balancing act is a continual challenge in the third most populous county in the United States, and achieving needed flood risk reduction within financial limitations is the major component of the district’s commitment. Diane Lowery-Binnie, assistant director, Street & Drainage Division, city of Houston, discussed the major issues related to the pavement condition data sets and related improvements in the systems and funding mechanisms for the projects. Kalai Vembu, project engineer, Fugro GeoConsultng Inc., discussed the offshore geotechnical practice that tended to diverge from onshore practice partly because of the scale of the foundation system and the fundamental differences in construction techniques. An overview of the practice of foundation engineering for the offshore structures, including the geotechnical assessment, loading, foundation types and design concepts were discussed. The session was moderated by Stanley Yin from the Texas Department of Transportation, Houston, TX.

“New Technologies for Maintaining and Monitoring” was the topic of the third panel session. Issues related to developing and using new technologies for various infrastructure applications were featured. Mark Loethen, deputy director, Planning & Development Services Division, city of Houston, discussed topics related to the context sensitive design, pre-engineering and enhanced data which are coming together under ReBuild Houston. Mohammad Jafari, CDM-Smith Engineering from Providence, RI, presented a study on the mechanical properties of self-compacting concrete containing nano-particles under elevated temperatures. In this study, the effect of nano-iron, nano-copper and nano-silica on the compressive strength and modulus were investigated. Shiva Sunder, research manager, Prime Resin, Atlanta, GA, presented the development of alkali activated cements and chemically bonded phosphate ceramics based coatings in geotechnical and structural applications. The session was moderated by David Peters, consulting engineer, Houston, TX.

Professor Robert D. Holtz, University of Washington in Seattle, WA, delivered the 10th Mike O’Neill Lecture on “Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil: From the Experimental to the Familiar.” In this lecture, a historical review of reinforced soil technology from the ancients, the developments of reinforced earth and the early uses of geosynthetics for soil reinforcement around the world was presented. The advantages and basic behavior of geosynthetic reinforced soil (GRS) was discussed along with an overview of current design procedures, and with reference to analytical research results. Practical suggestions were given for dealing with creep, pullout and backfill drainage. Although GRS is quite a mature development, a few technical and professional issues remain because of failures of some of the structures. Reasons for these failures and some suggestions as to what the profession can do about them were presented. The lecture also highlighted several examples of successful applications of GRS and reinforced soil technology.

This was followed by a presentation by Dr. Vipu on “Smart Cement Modified with Nano-particles for Sensing, Improved Resistance to Contamination and Real-Time Monitoring of Installation of Oil Wells Using Simulated Physical Model Tests.” The smart cement currently being developed at CIGMAT has very high sensing and piezoresistive properties so that it can be monitored from the time of placing to the entire service life. Also the effect of using nano-particles to further enhance the performance of smart cement was investigated. This type of capabilities will greatly improve the level of monitoring to minimize the failures that occur due to cement failure including what happened at Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Model tests were performed to demonstrate the real-time monitoring of the oil-well installation.

Also during the conference, David Magill (deceased), former president of Avanti International and co-founder of CIGMAT, was honored by Dr. Vipu and Robert Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Underground Construction magazine. Magill’s history and his critical role in forming the CIGMAT, a University-Industry Consortium, and his many contributions to the profession and the grouting industry were highlighted.

A reception followed the technical sessions in the exhibit area where attendees could view posters on research activities at CIGMAT and in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. A number of grouting, pipe manufacturers, material suppliers, pipe condition monitoring and waste water rehabilitation companies participated in the exhibition.

A conference proceeding is available on the CIGMAT web site at The next CIGMAT conference will be held on March 4, 2016 at the University Hilton at the University of Houston.

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