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GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

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A COMPARISON OF THREE PROJECTS UTILIZING AUGER CAST


PILES

James C. Pegues, P.E, M.ASCE1, Stacy S. Sprayberry, P.E. M. ASCE2, and Richard
M. Franke, P.E. M.ASCE3
1
Senior Engineer, Southern Company, Earth Science & Environmental Engineering
Department, 42 Inverness Center Parkway, Bin B426, Birmingham, AL 35242
PH (205)992-6002; FAX (205)992-0356email: jcpegues@southernco.com
2
Senior Engineer, Southern Company, Earth Science & Environmental Engineering
Department; PH (205)992-6006; email: sssprayb@southernco.com
3
Principal Engineer, Southern Company, Earth Science & Environmental
Engineering Department; PH (205)992-6224, email: rmfranke@southernco.com

Abstract:

Auger cast piles were employed to support major equipment additions under three
separate projects during 2005 and 2006 at one electric generation plant in south
Alabama. Due to the subsurface profile variations within the plant and differing
foundation loading, various lengths of auger cast piles were installed. Axial load
tests, lateral load tests and pile integrity testing were used on some of the projects.
Several problems during construction required modifications to installation methods,
including a change in foundation type mid-project on one of the additions. Predicted
and measured capacities for both axial compression and lateral capacity are
compared, along with a discussion on the various problems encountered during
construction. The paper also stresses how historical information regarding existing
facilities plays an important role in the selection and performance of foundation
types.

INTRODUCTION

Alabama Power Companys James M. Barry electric generating plant is located


north of Mobile, Alabama. The plant encompasses seven generating units consisting
of five coal fired units and two, natural gas-fired combined cycle units. Several deep
foundation systems have historically been used at the plant. For the most recent
projects, auger cast piles were recommended to accommodate the compressive, uplift
and lateral loads expected under the new equipment and structures.

Copyright ASCE 2007 Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics


Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

HISTORIC FOUNDATION USAGE

A variety of deep foundation systems have been used at Plant Barry since its
original construction. Construction drawings from the 1950s indicate the use of
timber piles and precast concrete piles (some cast with a tapered point.) Pile lengths
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were generally on the order of 35 feet, and capacities of these piles typically were on
the order of 25 tons. In the 1960s and 1970s, closed end pipe piles appeared to be
the pile of choice. Pile lengths increased, resulting in pile capacities on the order of
45 to 60 tons. A new pedestal mounted crane for coal unloading was constructed
along the barge canal in 2001. The foundation system used for this project included
HP 14x73 sections driven to a final length of about 100 feet. Axial capacity of the H-
piles was 90 tons, with an uplift capacity of 75 tons and a lateral capacity of 2.5 tons.

RECENT PROJECTS

Some of the more recent projects at Plant Barry that utilized deep foundation
systems included a new Barge Unloading and Stockout Conveyor System (Project 1);
and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and Balanced Draft Conversion (BDC)
equipment (Project 2). The construction of the SCR/BDC equipment also required
the relocation of a large condensate tank (Project 3). All of these projects originally
recommended auger cast piles as the design foundation system. Geotechnical
explorations were conducted on all three projects by the Earth Science &
Environmental Engineering department of Southern Company Generation. Structural
design was performed by other departments within Southern Company.

SITE INVESTIGATIONS

Each of the aforementioned projects had investigations conducted separately during


2004 and 2005. Site investigation methods generally consisted of conventional
standard penetration testing (SPT) at all sites and electronic cone penetration testing
(CPT) at two of the sites. Site investigation and profiling of the subsurface conditions
are hindered somewhat by company requirements to clear boring locations for
utilities by the use of hydroexcavation techniques. Hydroexcavation is used to a
depth of about 10 feet below ground surface to make sure utilities are not present, and
then backfilled, typically with fine granular material. Thus, any data about the
consistency or relative density of the upper soils is seriously lacking. For analysis of
axial capacity of deep foundations, this lack of data is a relatively minor
inconvenience. However, the absence of shallow soils data is detrimental to cost
effective design for lateral load capacity.

Copyright ASCE 2007 Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics


Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations
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Figure 1. Project Location Plan

Project 1

A total of ten SPT borings were drilled for Project 1. Boring depths ranged from
about 30 feet to 60 feet. SPT sampling began at a depth of about 10 feet below
ground surface. The borings typically encountered sandy clay to clayey sand in the
upper 20 to 25 feet. SPT N-values ranged from 0 blows per foot (bpf) to 25 bpf.
Below the upper clayey soils, fine to medium grained sands were encountered to
boring termination, with SPT N-values typically above 20 bpf.

Project 2

A total of nine SPT borings ranging in depth from about 70 feet to 105 feet were
drilled for Project 2. In addition, nine CPT soundings were also performed to refusal
depths ranging from 32 to 84 feet across this area. The borings typically encountered
sandy clay to clayey sand in the upper 20 to 25 feet, transitioning to deeper dense
sands to boring termination. SPT N-values ranged from 3 blows per foot (bpf) to 91
bpf in the sandy soils. In some instances a fat clay layer was present from depths of
about 67 to 85 feet below existing grade. SPT N-values in this clay layer ranged from
0 to 5 bpf.

Project 3

Two CPT soundings were performed within the footprint of the condensate tank.
These soundings encountered cone refusal at approximately 30 feet below grade. The
CPT logs indicated this soil profile was a blend of sand and clay. Cone tip resistances
ranged from about 4 tons per square foot (tsf) to greater than 200 tsf. Friction values
ranged from less than 0.1 tsf to greater than 1 tsf.

Copyright ASCE 2007 Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics


Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

FOUNDATION SELECTION

Surface features and soil stratigraphy impacted the selection of foundation type and
depth. Overhead conveyor systems and transmission lines on two of the projects
limited access. A wharf hopper planned for another project sits atop and to the side
of existing coffer cells. There were concerns over the addition of stress to those
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coffer cell interlocks by the installation of displacement piles.

Analysis of deep foundation capacity for each project was performed using
commercially available computer programs and/or established design methodologies.
Various pile types were considered during each investigation, including auger cast
piles, driven concrete piles, and driven pipe piles. The decision was made on each
project to use auger cast piles.

Pile Capacity

For all projects, the auger cast piles were designed for some combination of end
bearing and side friction. The size and number of piles were governed by both axial
and lateral capacity needs. Pile depth was established based upon soil conditions and
the impact some of the subsurface features would have on the pile capacity. In all
instances, 14-inch diameter piles were selected. For both Project 1 and Project 2, two
different pile lengths were recommended (and used). For Project 1, pile lengths of 55
feet were recommended within the existing coffer cell where loosely placed backfill
existed near the ground surface. All other recommended pile lengths for Project 1
were 40 feet. For Project 2, pile lengths of 50 feet and 80 feet were recommended,
with the 50 feet long designed for side friction only and intended to be sufficiently
above the soft clay layer to reduce potential consolidation settlements. The 80 feet
long piles were designed to extend through the soft clay layer to bear in the
underlying dense sands.

Lateral capacity was predicted using the Ensoft, Inc. program LPILE. With the
lack of soil data in the upper 10 feet of the borings, conservative assumptions of shear
strength and lateral subgrade modulus values were chosen based on historic boring
information. Values of ultimate lateral capacity for deflections of 0.25 inches, 0.5
inches and 1 inch were computed, with guidance recommendations given to the
structural designers to follow established Building Code procedures for determining
allowable loads. In summary, the allowable lateral load was established as 50 percent
of the load required to cause a 1-inch deflection of the pile head (as predicted by
LPILE.) Table 1 summarizes the ultimate capacities for the 14-inch auger cast pile
foundations.

PILE TESTING

Pile testing was performed on all projects at the beginning of and during installation.
For axial capacity estimations, dynamic pile testing (PDA testing) was used on test

Copyright ASCE 2007 Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics


Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

piles. Lateral load testing was also performed on test piles to confirm the design
capacity could be achieved. Pile Integrity Testing (PIT) was performed on some test
piles and about 25% of the production piles for the Project 1 production piles. No
PIT was performed (or planned) for the Project 2 or Project 3 production piles.

Table 1. Foundation Design Capacities


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ULTIMATE DESIGN
LENGTH
PROJECT CAPACITY
(feet)
Axial (tons) Lateral (tons)
40 114 13
Project 1
55 160 13
50 160 14
Project 1
80 245 14
Project 3 55 160 13

Project 1

Four test piles were installed with lengths of 40 feet. Limited space did not allow
the installation of 55 feet long test piles where needed in the coffer cells. High strain
PDA tests were performed to estimate the ultimate axial capacity of three of the test
piles. Low strain PIT testing was also performed to evaluate pile structural integrity.
Low-strain PIT results on Test Pile No. 1 did not show any characteristics that would
suggest structural integrity problems. The PDA testing indicated a static capacity of
about 119 tons, with about 83 percent of that achieved in side friction.

For Test Pile No. 2, PIT results indicated potential damage of the pile at a depth of
about 11 feet above the tip of the pile. The PDA testing indicated an ultimate static
capacity of about 72 tons, lower than the ultimate design capacity of 114 tons.

Finally, PIT results for Test Pile No. 3 suggested no structural integrity problems,
and the PDA results indicated an ultimate static capacity of about 121 tons, with
about 79 percent of the capacity being generated in side friction.

Lateral load tests were performed on one pair of the test piles (Pile No. 3 and Pile
No. 4.) A jack was placed between two piles and each was loaded to about 13 tons,
the ultimate design capacity predicted to generate 1 inch of deflection. A maximum
deflection of only about 0.8 inches was achieved. The lateral load test setup (typical
for all projects) is illustrated in Figure 2. Load deflection curves for the initial
loading are shown in Figure 3.

Copyright ASCE 2007 Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics


Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations
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Figure 2. Lateral Load Test Setup

Project 1 Lateral Load Test


Standard Loading

1
Deflection (inches)

Pile 3
0.5
Pile 4

0
0 5 10 15 20
Load (tons)

Figure 3. Project 1 Lateral Load vs. Deflection Curves

Project 2

Two 14-inch diameter test piles were installed for Project 2 in June 2006. Test Pile
No. 1 was installed with a length of 80 feet. Test Pile No. 2 was installed with a
length of 50 feet. High strain PDA tests were performed to evaluate the ultimate
axial capacity of both of the test piles. Low strain integrity testing was also
performed during the testing program. The PDA testing for Test Pile No. 1 indicated
an ultimate capacity of about 189 tons, well below the predicted design capacity of
245 tons. The PDA testing for Test Pile No. 2 indicated an ultimate capacity of about
168 tons, which slightly exceeded the ultimate design capacity of 160 tons. In both
instances, about 70 percent of the capacity was achieved in side friction. PIT results
did not indicate structural integrity problems with the piles.

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Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

Given these results, three additional test piles were installed to depths of 78 to 83
feet and capacities estimated using PDA methods. Again, the indicated capacities of
all three test piles were below predicted capacities. Tested capacities of the two
longer test piles were, in fact, lower than that of the shortest of the three.

The pile installation contractor then elected to perform static load testing on the 78
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feet long pile. The pile was loaded to 300 tons, with a deflection of about 0.4 inches
at this test load. This static load test indicated that the required capacity could be
achieved with the design depth. The conclusion was reached that the PDA testing
was not providing reliable results for these longer auger cast piles, and the project
proceeded as originally designed.

Lateral load tests were performed on the initial pair of test piles. Each pile was
loaded to about 14 tons. Test Pile No. 1 deflected approximately 0.7 inches, while
Test Pile No. 2 deflected only about 0.2 inches. The initial load was removed and the
piles were then loaded to a maximum of about 22 tons, or about 150 percent of the
predicted ultimate capacity. Total deflections for Test Pile No. 1 and Test Pile No. 2
at this higher loading were 1.6 inches and 0.6 inches, respectively. The load test
results indicate that the lateral load analysis under predicted the lateral pile capacity.
The load deflection curves for the Project 2 test piles are shown in Figure 4.

Project 2 Lateral Load Test

1.6
Deflection (inches)

1.4
1.2
1
Pile 1 (78')
0.8
0.6 Pile 2 (53')
0.4
0.2
0
0 5 10 15 20 25
Load (Tons)

Figure 4. Project 2 Lateral Load vs. Deflection Curves

Project 3

Two test piles were installed with lengths of 55 feet below grade, the required
production pile lengths for this project. Grout takes on the test piles were on the
order of 127 percent of the theoretical volume, slightly higher than the specified
minimum of 115 percent.

Copyright ASCE 2007 Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics


Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

High strain PDA tests were performed to estimate the ultimate axial capacity of both
of the test piles. The PDA testing for the eastern pile indicated a capacity of about
150 tons, almost entirely from side friction. The PDA testing for the western pile
experienced significant movements with each hammer stroke. It appeared that the
pile had structural integrity problems approximately half way down its length, and the
load test was deemed a failure. Again, no PIT evaluation was performed on these
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piles, so the integrity suspicions could not be confirmed.

Lateral load tests were performed on the pair of test piles. A jack was placed
between the two piles and each was loaded to about 8.5 tons, resulting in
approximately 0.4 inches deflection in both of the test piles. The test apparatus,
primarily the jack stroke capacity, limited the amount of load that could be applied to
the piles in order to achieve any greater deflections. The load deflection curves are
shown in Fig 5.

Project 3 Lateral Testing

0.4
Deflection (inches)

0.3
Pile 1
0.2
Pile 2
0.1

0
0 2 4 6 8 10
Load (tons)

Figure 5. Condensate Tank Lateral Load vs. Deflection Curves

PILE INSTALLATION ISSUES

As with many building projects, these jobs were not without their challenges during
construction. Some of the issues experienced during construction are discussed
below.

Project 1

During the initial stages of the production pile installation, the contractor had
difficulty installing the reinforcement cage below a depth of only a few feet. The
contractor claimed that the actual water table was a few feet lower than the borings
indicated, and that the drier sands in the upper few feet was quickly removing the
water from the grout, causing it to set before the reinforcement could be placed. A
grout fluidifier was added, and the contractor brought in a field superintendent that

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Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

was reportedly more knowledgeable about pile installation under similar conditions,
and the problem went away.

After a few of the 55-feet deep piles were installed for the hopper atop the coffer
cell and adjacent to the existing coal bunker, a loss of grout was experienced in
several of the piles. After completion of grouting and removal of the auger, the tops
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of the piles would drop several feet. At first, the grout in a few piles was augered out
and the piles reconstructed. In most instances, however, the problem reoccurred.
Several days of discussion were held between the design team, the contractor and
plant personnel. It was finally learned that the walls of an adjoining coal bunker,
which extend as much as 30 to 40 feet below existing ground surface, had a history of
problems associated with flow of water and soil from the wall backfill into the
bunker. A grouting program, occurring almost annually, had been undertaken for
several years. This information had not been revealed to the design team prior to the
project design and construction. The design team concluded that grout placed during
foundation construction was likely flowing into voids left by this loss of soil, and the
realization was made that the installation problems with the auger cast piles would
not be readily resolved.

Therefore, the decision was made by the design team to develop an alternate
foundation system for this area. The nearby pedestal crane is founded on H-piles
driven to a depth of about 100 feet. No borings drilled for Project 1 extended to those
depths. However, the original boring data from the pedestal crane project was
available for review, and was considered reliable. Therefore, a driven H-pile
foundation system using HP 14x73 sections (as with the pedestal crane) was chosen
to replace some of the auger cast piles. Higher capacities would likely have been
achieved with a displacement pile, such as closed-end steel pipe piles, but there were
concerns over the possible existence of a grout bulb from the originally constructed
auger cast piles. It was agreed that the driven H-piles would likely be able to
penetrate any such grout. A total of 25 replacement H-piles were installed with little
to no difficulty to complete the foundations in the area of the hopper.

Project 3

The auger cast piles for Project 3 were installed by a contractor whose primary
experience was with the installation of driven piles. Initial concerns arose concerning
the grout volumes installed into the auger cast piles during test pile installation. This
lack of grout volume apparently created the integrity problems indicated by the PIT
results. While overall grout volumes were on the order of 127 percent of theoretical
pile volume, it was apparent there was not a consistent distribution of grout and some
necking of the pile had occurred. The grout volumes and withdrawal rates along
the length of the pile were therefore closely monitored during production pile
installation.

These piles were installed the month after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast.
As such, the concrete plants were operating with reduced manpower, on generator

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Contemporary Issues In Deep Foundations
GSP 158 Contemporary Issues in Deep Foundations

power, and with few shipments of materials. As a result, some of the initial concrete
compressive strength tests did not achieve the required strength at 28 days. Design
compressive strength was achieved at 56 days. As the hurricane restoration effort
continued, the quality of the concrete improved.

CONCLUSIONS
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Three separate projects at Alabama Power Companys Plant Barry near Mobile,
Alabama utilized auger cast piles as the primary deep foundation system. All piles
were designed and installed as 14-inch diameter piles. Design pile lengths for the
various projects ranged from 40 feet to 80 feet in depth. Predicted ultimate axial
capacities ranged from 55 tons to 245 tons, and predicted ultimate lateral capacities
were 13 tons to 14 tons. Dynamic testing for axial loading and static testing for
lateral loading illustrated that the design loads could be achieved with proper pile
installation. There were problems with dynamic testing on the deeper, higher
capacity piles for Project 2. However, static load testing of these piles indicated the
design capacity could be achieved at the design depths. The experience on this
project suggests that PDA testing was not reliable in accurately estimating actual pile
capacity for auger cast piles with lengths in excess of 50 to 60 feet.

Constructability problems had to be addressed at the beginning of construction for


the Project 1, and later problems with a loss of grout required a change from auger
cast piles to driven H-piles for this project as well. Both Project 1 and Project 3 were
ultimately completed successfully and are currently in use at the plant. Production
pile installation for Project 2 was underway at the time of preparation of this paper,
with little difficulty in production pile installation.

Finally, historical information from the plant proved to be an important


consideration in both the design and construction phases of these projects. Previous
deep borings revealed a deeper soft clay layer that needed to be avoided in some
areas. Existing information from plant personnel regarding the grouting program at
the adjoining bunker could have forewarned the designers of potential problems with
the use of auger cast piles adjacent to it. The presence of historic deep boring
information, as well as previous design information, allowed for a relatively quick
design modification to driven H-piles when the problems occurred. Finally, previous
geotechnical investigations provided important information about soil strengths in the
upper 10 feet of the soil profile that was not available for sampling and testing due to
current utility clearance procedures.

CONVERSION TO SI UNITS

Feet (ft) x 0.305 = meter (m)


Inch (in) x 25.4 = millimeters (m)
Pounds per cubic foot (pcf) x 0.157 = kiloNewton per cubic meter (kN/m3)
Tons x 8.896 = kiloNewton (kN)
Tons per square foot (tsf) x 95.76 = kilopascal (kPa)

10

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