Design of poured earth construction materials from the elementary characteristics of tropical soils

Lily Walter, Yannick Estevez, Gildas Medjigbodo, Jean-Emmanuel Aubert, Laurent Linguet, Ouahcène Nait-Rabah

Sustainable construction materials and local solutions are crucial for meeting urbanisation demands in tropical regions like French Guiana. Poured earthen construction, primarily composed of local soil, offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative. To ensure good consistency for pouring, the use of dispersants to deflocculate clay particles is an effective strategy that reduces water demand while enhancing the material’s physical and mechanical properties. However, the variability of soil impacts the effectiveness of dispersants and the earth’s material properties. It is currently unknown how the specific properties of tropical soils can influence the mix design of poured earth and how it impacts their resulting physical and mechanical characteristics. This work examines the soil properties that could help select suitable soil for poured earth construction. Four tropical soils of French Guiana were characterised in detail and used to prepare mortars with varying amounts of water and dispersant (sodium hexametaphosphate). The consistency and compressive strength of the mortars correlated with the mineralogical and geotechnical characteristics of the soils. In particular, soils with high levels of metal oxides produced mortars with the highest compressive strength. Using a dispersant consistently increased the compressive strength and dry density of the mortars and enabled a reduction in water content. Importantly, the analysis revealed that two easily measurable soil properties, the passing at 63 µm and the pH measured in potassium chloride (pH KCl), could predict the mechanical properties of the mortars and the amount of dispersant needed. Specifically, the pH KCl correlated with the proportion of iron and aluminium oxide and showed a positive linear correlation with the compressive strength. Overall, this study identifies easily measurable soil properties, in particular the pH KCl, for selecting and designing high-performance earth materials with tropical soils. It offers promising prospects for industrialising poured earth construction.

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