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photo credit:steven bartlett

Geofoam EPS - The perfect geotechnical solution from Michigan Foam Products

   Geofoam EPS (expanded polystyrene) has forever changed the way highway and roadway construction is viewed, and the impact it has had on major projects around the world. With the amazing rapidity that large blocks of geofoam EPS can be placed makes it one of the dominant choices in embankment fill. EPS also excels where poor soil conditions are not favorable for traditional fill materials. Using a fraction of the work crews and equipment needed for large projects in the past, this eviromentally friendly product can save months of onsite construction costs. In today's competitive, ever changing construction environment, geofoam eps project versatility offers time-tested results (some going back to 1972) that give provablity to this type of geotechnical project. This special type of EPS has been used with a high success rate worldwide for over four decades. From Alaska to Arizona, California to Virginia, and everywhere in between, geofoam projects are expanding all over the U.S.I-15 UDOT Geofoam expanded polystyrene has been used on thousands of construction sites, roadways, bridges, bridge embankments, and airport runways just to name a few of the projects. In the United States and worldwide, project after project, the results of geofoam applications have been stellar. In recent years, even the Federal Highway Administration has become one of geofoam's most ardent supporters asking every state to evaluate it in their highway projects. To date, more than twenty states have done geofoam dependant highway projects of some kind, with some projects involving a massive 50,000 cubic yards of geofoam EPS.

What exactly is Geofoam EPS, and why use it?

   Geofoam is a low density,expanded polystrene (EPS) rigid plastic (polymeric) which is manufactured as large blocks for quick placement on your job site. Michigan Foam Products geofoam EPS blocks can be manufactured up to sixteen feet in length as well as many density variables that could be easily enhanced or changed depending on your specific application. Once the geofoam EPS blocks arrive onsite, the blocks can easily be cut or shaped to any size needed. Geofoam EPS weighs a fraction (1 to 2 lbs. per cubic foot) of what the soil it replaces weighs thereby reducing a majority of lateral and downward pressure on the area installed. Having a closed cell structure when manufactured, Geofoam EPS has a decided advantage in that its inherant water resistance inhibits moisture when put into projects with soggy or poor soil environments while maintaining shape and stability. Because Geofoam is a thermoplastic, it will not decompose, leech, or pollute the soil in which it was installed. In fact, a geofoam project in Norway had to reconstruct a previous geofoam roadway project due to lane widening improvements. Once the asphalt and topsoil were removed, the geofoam underneath was in excellent condition after 24 years of service! Once the geofoam was thouroughly inspected, it was found to be in good enough condition to have 5,000 cubic yards of the geofoam to be reinstalled into the new project.

    There are many other good reasons for using geofoam EPS. One of them is the continued expansion of geofoam usage when it is finally tried. Seeing is believing when it comes to geofoam. Construction companies are sometimes reluctant to use technologies that appear to be new or untested. Much rides on credible testing. Besides the voluminous resources we have in the right column of this page, actual projects installed are also a good litmus test of geofoam's credibility. Once geofoam EPS was tried in Japan back in the 1980's, its popularity soared. So much so that presently, Japan now does 50% (compared to the U.S. at 10% of blocks manufactured)of the worldwide geofoam EPS usage for construction. A staggering amount, even by today's standards of popularity. Within the first ten years of geofoam's reception in Japan, 2,000 projects amounting to 1.3 cubic meters of geofoam EPS were completed.

   Another excellent reason for geofoam EPS consideration is the tight project schedules. Jobsites incorporating geofoam could not have been finished so quickly using traditional practices. Sites that incorporate geofoam can be continued right through the most inclimate weather conditions. A huge bonus depending on location.

More Reasons to use Geofoam EPS

  • Lightweight (1 to 2 lbs per cubic foot)
  • Project Versatility
  • Reduces construction time and costs
  • Extemely high strength to density ratio
  • High compression rates
  • A natural thermal insulator
  • Does not contain CFC (chlorofluorocarbons) or HCFC's (hydrochlorofluorocarbons)
  • Mold and mildew resistant
  • Easily transported
  • No toxic chemicals to pollute surrounding area

Geofoam Applications

Airport Taxiways and Runways Green Roofing Underlayment Retaining Structures
Berms Landscaping Fill Retaining Wall Backfill
Bridge Approaches and Abutments Lateral Force Reduction Slope Stabilization
Buried Utility Line Protection Lightweight Embankments Theatre Seating
Fill Replacement (for poor soil) Lightweight Void Fill Widening Embankments
Foundations Pool Decking Road Beds

Geofoam EPS Application Precautions

warning image   It is absolutely critical that engineers be aware that geofoam EPS is no different than any other geotechnical solution in that it must be installed properly and with every precaution. Please research every aspect of geofoam's installation data available and please do a proper site and application analysis for its intended use. Geofoam EPS failures have occurred because of improperly installed geofoam EPS, and in nearly every case, it was lack of preparatory study of geofoam EPS. With the versatility of geofoam EPS applications, it is well worth the time spent doing it properly. As you can read in the section below about projects already constructed and time-tested, massive amounts of geofoam EPS can be used, and with better than expected results. MFP has included on this page numerous resources for you to research and find out ways to apply geofoam for your particular project and environment. On the right column of this page are links around the internet and in some cases, downloadable PDF files for you to read. Or check out this link about  Geofoam precautions


Noteable Geofoam EPS Projects in the U.S.

   The Interstate 15 highway project in Salt Lake City, Utah is the largest geofoam EPS project ever done in the U.S. using a staggering 100,000 cubic meters (3.5 million cubic feet) of geofoam EPS.i15 geofoam project This is one of the best geofoam EPS projects on the internet concerning design, preperation, geotechnical instumented field analysis, technical information, and installation of geofoam EPS and its requirements. The project objectives involved totally reconstructing a sixteen mile stretch of I-15 and widening the entire roadway from the existing six lanes to the new twelve lane design. In addition to this, erecting 144 "overpass bridge structures" and 160 MSE (mechanically stabilized earth) retaining walls. Geofoam EPS was used mainly for "lightweight embankment fill" and for loose fill above underground utilities such as gas lines, sewer lines, and water lines. The I-15 project lasted about 3.5 years with a price tag of 1.5 billion dollars.i15 geofoam project image According to Professor Clifton Farnsworth, "geofoam embankments had the best overall settlement performance of the geotechnologies monitored".
photo credit: steven bartlett

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria Virginia, Route 1 and I-495, had one of the worst reputations for bottlenecked traffic in the entire U.S. due to an overload of 200,000 vehicle a day usgae.woodrow wilson bridge The Virginia DOT decided to build a new twelve lane bridge to replace the six lane bridge that dated back to 1961. Total length of this huge project was approximately eight miles long. The area also had to have four interconnecting interchanges constructed. Because of soft soil conditions and settlement concerns, geofoam was chosen to replace the traditional fills materials. Being such an important FHWA project, the site was also used to have a "live" geofoam EPS deployment showing the ease at which geofoam can be deployed and installed. Representatives from the FHWA have stood behind geofoam and its ability to become a huge step forward in highway construction of all kinds. The cost of this massive project was 2.5 billion dollars. photo credit:FHWA and EPSIA
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   During the deadly "Loma Prieta" or the "World Series" earthquake on October 17, 1989, the third game of the World Series was about to begin.  At 5:04 P.M., a powerful earthquake measuring between 6.9 and 7.1 on the Richter Scale began shaking the entire San Francisco Bay area for approximately 15 seconds.1880 thumbnail In that short time, numerous sections of I880 and numerous sections of bridges collapsed. Many Bay Area bridge stuctures, overpass structures, and numerous support columns in and around the Bay Area were entirely devastated or structuraly compromised. Numerous off-ramps, expressway approaches, and bridge sections would have to be rebuilt. Because of the muddy unstable foundation areas underneath the highway structures, and the considerable siesmic activity in the area, a new solution to the problem had to be worked out. If traditional methods were used, about fifteen meters of mud would have to be removed before rebuilding could begin. Since geofoam EPS has had been installed and tested in damp soil conditions similar to this on numerous projects around the world, geofoam was decided to be the best option. Using geofoam EPS , less than one meter of the soft muddy soil had to be removed speeding up reconstruction considerably, while increasing stability of the area.thumb1
    By the time the construction on that portion of I-880 was completed, 50,000 cubic yards of geofoam EPS was installed. To date, no problems have arisen regarding the application of geofoam EPS in the I-880 project.



photo credit : US Geological Survey
   The TRAX Light Rail extension line project in West Valley, Utah is also one of the most well known geofoam EPS projects in the U.S because of the shear size, environmental adaption, and complexity.trax thumbnail Geofoam EPS was needed because of the high settlement rate that was expected due to the soft deposits of Lake Bonneville, which would have taken three years to eventually stabilize. After extensive design considerations were evaluated by the UDOT and project engineers, geofoam EPS was chosen over traditional fill because of its lightweight, water resistance, and high compressibilty qualities. The ability to rapidly install the geofoam EPS blocks was later found to save months of project construction time and cost, saving millions of dollars in the process. Once the initial five feet of the loose subgrade was removed, layers of geofoam EPS were then added to give the entire site the necessary stability. After this, embankments of geofoam EPS up to 40 feet high had to be contructed for four bridges on the new rail line extension. When it was completed in April of 2011, over 2.1 million cubic feet of geofoam EPS was used for this massive project.

  Congratulations to the UTA for winning the "2014 Public Transportation System of the Year"

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