Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

John S. McCartney

Second Advisor

Dobroslav Znidarcic


This thesis presents the results from a series of centrifuge tests performed to understand the profiles of thermo-mechanical axial strain, axial displacement, and axial stress in semi-floating and end-bearing energy foundations installed in dry Nevada sand and Bonny silt layers during different combinations of mechanical loading and foundation heating. In addition to the construction details for the centrifuge scale-model reinforced concrete energy foundations, the results from 1 g thermo-mechanical characterization tests performed on the foundations to evaluate their mechanical and thermal material properties are presented in this thesis.

In general, the centrifuge-scale tests involve application of an axial load to the head of the foundation followed by circulation of a heat exchange fluid through embedded tubing to bring the foundation to a constant temperature. After this point, mechanical loads were applied to the foundation to characterize their thermo-mechanical response. Specifically, loading tests to failure were performed on the semi-floating foundation installed in different soil layers to characterize the impact of temperature on the load-settlement curve, and elastic loading tests were performed on the end-bearing foundation to characterize the impact of temperature on the mobilized side shear distributions. During application of mechanical loads and changes in foundation temperature, the axial strains are measured using embedded strain gages. The soil and foundation temperatures, foundation head movement, and soil surface deformations are also monitored to characterize the thermo-mechanical response of the system.

The tests performed in this study were used to investigate different phenomena relevant to the thermo-mechanical response of energy foundations. First, the role of end-restraint boundary conditions in both sand and silt were investigated by comparing the strain distributions for the end-bearing and semi-floating foundations in each soil type. The tests on sand and silt permit evaluation of the soil-structure interaction in dry and unsaturated soils with different mechanisms of side shear resistance (i.e., primarily frictional and primarily cohesive, respectively). End-bearing foundations were observed to have higher magnitudes of thermal axial stress than semi-floating foundations, with a more uniform distribution in thermal axial strain in the sand. A general conclusion from these tests is that the unsaturated silt led to a more pronounced soil structure interaction effect than the dry sand. For example, temperature did not affect the ultimate capacity of the semi-floating foundation in dry sand, while it had a pronounced effect in unsaturated silt. Two approaches for controlling the foundation head restraint boundary condition were investigated for the end-bearing foundation in sand: load control conditions (free expansion) as well as stiffness control conditions (restrained expansion). As expected, greater expansion was observed in the case of free expansion, and greater thermal axial stresses were observed in the case of restrained expansion. The effects of temperature cycles were also investigated for the semi-floating foundation in Bonny silt, and less upward movement was observed during each cycle of heating, with a slight softening in behavior on each cycle. Overall, the results provide a suite of information which is suitable to define soil-structure interaction parameters under realistic stress states for deep foundations.