The Zonal Approach to Ground Engineering: A Revised Way of Thinking

The planned construction of energy islands in the North and Baltic seas represents an exciting development of offshore engineering. With a vision that they can encompass a variety of roles, such as the conversion of wind energy to green hydrogen, a centre for green energy related research, or an offshore base for the maintenance of wind turbines, the design of these features to withstand the natural forces of the North Sea is challenging. In this situation, geotechnical engineers are presented with the challenge of designing foundation and ground treatment solutions for uncertain loads and performance requirements.

In order to meet these requirements, a zonal approach to design based on the treatment of ground and only limited use of rigid foundation elements is recommended. This can allow for the treatment of ground within zones to meet different load requirements, and provide access pathways for heavy plant and equipment such as electrical transformers. This approach can also allow changes in the configuration of the island itself by modifying the structure on a zone by zone basis to accommodate island expansion or contraction for the purposes of research or future unforeseen industry as part of the green transformation of our economies.

The zonal approach also presents a revised way of thinking about the design of foundations and ground improvement for onshore development as well. Many urban projects now have to work around existing foundations, basements and other features that are difficult to reuse as part of new developments. As we are looking to meet the net zero challenge, planning our urban space in a zonal way could be beneficial. This could be done by using the greater flexibility offered by ground treatment to provide new urban development zones that are ready to support structures of a certain load and defined performance in terms of load-settlement response and durability.

This approach calls for much more collaboration between city planners/building authorities and developers and designers to help our cities evolve and reduce future carbon costs by future-proofing city zones as well as construction time. This approach would also tie in better with the move to the use of more pre-constructed modular superstructures, which can be adapted to future community and client needs.

In order to deliver the net zero future demanded by society, joined up thinking between designers and stakeholders is needed. What is starting offshore can drift onshore to encourage new thinking about how we develop and redesign our cities to meet future challenges of construction forms and make use of materials yet to be implemented commercially. 1

Source: ‘The zonal approach presents a revised way of thinking about foundation design’ | Ground Engineering (GE)

1 Zonal approach to foundation design for offshore energy islands

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