Laboratory experiments and grain based discrete element numerical simulations investigating the thermo-mechanical behaviour of sandstone

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James Woodman , Audrey Ougier-Simonin, Anastasios Stavrou, Ioannis Vazaios, William Murphy, Mark E Thomas, Helen J Reeves


Thermo-mechanical loading can occur in numerous engineering geological environments, from both natural and anthropogenic sources. Different minerals and micro-defects in rock cause heterogeneity at a grain scale, affecting the mechanical and thermal properties of the material. Changes in strength and stiffness can occur from exposure to elevated temperatures, with the accumulation of localised stresses resulting in thermally induced micro-cracking within the rock. In this study we investigated thermal micro-cracking at a grain scale through both laboratory experiments and their numerical simulations. We performed laboratory triaxial experiments on specimens of fine grain sandstone at a confining pressure of 5MPa and room temperature (20°C), as well as heating to 50°C, 75°C and 100°C prior to mechanical loading. The laboratory experiments were then replicated using discrete element method simulations. The geometry and granular structure of the sandstone was replicated using a Voronoi tessellation scheme to produce a grain based model. Strength and stiffness properties of the Voronoi contacts were calibrated to the laboratory specimens. Grain scale thermal properties were applied to the grain based models according to mineral percentages obtained from quantitative X-ray diffraction analysis on laboratory specimens. Thermo-mechanically coupled modelling was then undertaken to reproduce the thermal loading rates used in the laboratory, before applying a mechanical load in the models until failure. Laboratory results show a reduction of up to 15% peak strength with increasing thermal loading between room temperature and 100°C, and microstructural analysis shows the development of thermally induced micro-cracking in laboratory specimens. The mechanical numerical simulations calibrate well with the laboratory results, and introducing coupled thermal loading to the simulations shows the development of localised stresses within the models, leading to the formation of thermally induced micro-cracks and strength reduction upon mechanical loading. Subsequently the potential for up-scaling the results for inclusion in future engineering design is discussed.



Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth Sciences, Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


grain based DEM, micro-crack, thermo-mechanical, triaxial


Published: 2020-05-30 01:39

Last Updated: 2020-10-25 19:52

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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