Slurry wall

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Clamshell-type slurry wall excavator SlurrywallEquipment.jpg
Clamshell-type slurry wall excavator
A set of slurry wall guide walls before excavation Muros guia muros pantalla aparcamiento.JPG
A set of slurry wall guide walls before excavation

A slurry wall is a civil engineering technique used to build reinforced concrete walls in areas of soft earth close to open water, or with a high groundwater table. [1] This technique is typically used to build diaphragm (water-blocking) walls surrounding tunnels and open cuts, and to lay foundations.

Civil engineering engineering discipline specializing in design, construction and maintenance of the built environment

Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including public works such as roads, bridges, canals, dams, airports, sewerage systems, pipelines, structural components of buildings, and railways.

Reinforced concrete composite building material

Reinforced concrete (RC) (also called reinforced cement concrete or RCC) is a composite material in which concrete's relatively low tensile strength and ductility are counteracted by the inclusion of reinforcement having higher tensile strength or ductility. The reinforcement is usually, though not necessarily, steel reinforcing bars (rebar) and is usually embedded passively in the concrete before the concrete sets. Reinforcing schemes are generally designed to resist tensile stresses in particular regions of the concrete that might cause unacceptable cracking and/or structural failure. Modern reinforced concrete can contain varied reinforcing materials made of steel, polymers or alternate composite material in conjunction with rebar or not. Reinforced concrete may also be permanently stressed, so as to improve the behaviour of the final structure under working loads. In the United States, the most common methods of doing this are known as pre-tensioning and post-tensioning.

Groundwater water located beneath the ground surface

Groundwater is the water present beneath Earth's surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock become completely saturated with water is called the water table. Groundwater is recharged from the surface; it may discharge from the surface naturally at springs and seeps, and can form oases or wetlands. Groundwater is also often withdrawn for agricultural, municipal, and industrial use by constructing and operating extraction wells. The study of the distribution and movement of groundwater is hydrogeology, also called groundwater hydrology.



While a trench is excavated to create a form for a wall, it is simultaneously filled with slurry (usually a mixture of bentonite and water). The dense but liquid slurry prevents the trench from collapsing by providing outward pressure, which balances the inward hydraulic forces and also retards water flow into the trench.

Slurry thin sloppy mud or cement or, in extended use, any fluid mixture of a pulverized solid with a liquid (usually water), often used as a convenient way of handling solids in bulk

A slurry is a mixture of solids with specific gravity greater than 1 suspended in liquid, usually water. The most common use of slurry is as a means of transporting solids, the liquid being a carrier that is pumped on a device such as a centrifugal pump. The size of solid particles may vary from 1 micron up to hundreds of millimeters. The particles may settle below a certain transport velocity and the mixture can behave as a Newtonian or non-Newtonian fluid. Depending on the mixture, the slurry may be abrasive and/or corrosive.

Bentonite A clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite

Bentonite is an absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. It was named by Wilbur C. Knight in 1898 after the Cretaceous Benton Shale near Rock River, Wyoming.

Slurry walls are typically constructed by starting with a set of guide walls, typically 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) deep and 0.5 metres (1 ft 8 in) thick. The guide walls are constructed on the ground surface to outline the desired slurry trench and guide the excavation machinery. Excavation is done using a special clamshell-shaped digger or a hydromill trench cutter, suspended from a crane. The excavator digs down to design depth (or bedrock) for the first wall segment. The excavator is then lifted and moved along the trench guide walls to continue the trench with successive cuts as needed. The trench is at all times kept filled with slurry to prevent its collapse, but the liquid filling allows the excavation machinery and excavation spoil to be moved without hindrance.

Excavator type of construction equipment

Excavators (hydraulic) are heavy construction equipment consisting of a boom, dipper, bucket and cab on a rotating platform known as the "house". The house sits atop an undercarriage with tracks or wheels. They are a natural progression from the steam shovels and often mistakenly called power shovels. All movement and functions of a hydraulic excavator are accomplished through the use of hydraulic fluid, with hydraulic cylinders and hydraulic motors. Due to the linear actuation of hydraulic cylinders, their mode of operation is fundamentally different from cable-operated excavators which use winches and steel ropes to accomplish the movements.

Hydromill trench cutter

The hydromill trench cutter is a type of construction equipment designed to dig the narrow but deep trenches used in the casting of slurry walls. Typically, it is a cutter attachment mounted on a crawler crane base machine, with different types of hose handling systems. The machine excavates by cutting the soil using two cutting wheels, while a powerful pump extracts the loose material mixed with some of the slurry, typically bentonite.

Once a particular length of trench is reached, a reinforcing cage is lowered into the slurry-filled pit and the pit is filled with concrete from the bottom up using tremie pipes. The heavier concrete displaces the bentonite slurry, which is pumped out, filtered, and stored in tanks for use in the next wall segment, or recycled.

Rebar steel bar or mesh used within concrete

Rebar, known when massed as reinforcing steel or reinforcement steel, is a steel bar or mesh of steel wires used as a tension device in reinforced concrete and reinforced masonry structures to strengthen and aid the concrete under tension. Concrete is strong under compression, but has weak tensile strength. Rebar significantly increases the tensile strength of the structure. Rebar's surface is often deformed to promote a better bond with the concrete.

Concrete Composite construction material

Concrete, usually Portland cement concrete, is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement that hardens over time—most frequently in the past a lime-based cement binder, such as lime putty, but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement or Portland cement. It is distinguished from other, non-cementitious types of concrete all binding some form of aggregate together, including asphalt concrete with a bitumen binder, which is frequently used for road surfaces, and polymer concretes that use polymers as a binder.

Tremie Equipment for underwater concrete placement

A tremie is a watertight pipe, usually of about 250mm inside diameter, with a conical hopper at its upper end above the water level. It may have a loose plug or a valve at the bottom end. A tremie is used to pour concrete underwater in a way that avoids washout of cement from the mix due to turbulent water contact with the concrete while it is flowing. This produces a more reliable strength of the product. Common applications include the following.

Slurry walls are successively extended to enclose an area, blocking water and softened earth from flowing into it. Once the concrete has hardened, excavation within the now concrete-wall-enclosed area can proceed. To prevent the concrete wall from collapsing into the newly open area, temporary supports such as tiebacks or internal crossbeams are installed. When completed, the structure built within the walled-off area supports the wall, so that tiebacks or other temporary bracing may be removed. Stability of the trench is essential in trench cutting. Usage of bentonite with precise density prevents collapse of trench walls

A tieback is a structural element installed in soil or rock to transfer applied tensile load into the ground. Typically in the form of a horizontal wire or rod, or a helical anchor, a tieback is commonly used along with other retaining systems to provide additional stability to cantilevered retaining walls. With one end of the tieback secured to the wall, the other end is anchored to a stable structure, such as a concrete deadman which has been driven into the ground or anchored into earth with sufficient resistance. The tieback-deadman structure resists forces that would otherwise cause the wall to lean, as for example, when a seawall is pushed seaward by water trapped on the landward side after a heavy rain.


The slurry wall technique was first introduced during the excavation of Line 1 on the underground rapid transit system of Milan, Italy by the company ICOS (Impresa Costruzioni Opere Specializzate) just after the end of World War II. This new technology became an important component of the top-down tunnelling method also known as Metodo Milano ("Milan method"). [2]

Milan Metro Line 1

Line 1 is the first underground rapid transit line built in Milan, Italy. It is part of the Milan Metro and it is operated by ATM. Works on the line began in 1957, and the first part was opened on 1 November 1964, running from Sesto Marelli to Lotto station. The line is also called Red Line, as it is visually identified by red signs. Due to its premiership, the line gave its red color to the Milan Metro logo.

Slurry wall construction was used to construct the "bathtub" that surrounded the foundations of most of the World Trade Center site in New York City. [3] In the 1980s, the Red Line Northwest Extension project in Boston was one of the first projects in the US to use the modern form of the technology, with hydromill trench cutters and the "Milan method". Slurry walls were also used extensively in Boston's later Big Dig tunnel project.

See also

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Trench excavated channel in ground

A trench is a type of excavation or depression in the ground that is generally deeper than it is wide, and narrow compared with its length.

Tunnel boring machine machine used to excavate circular tunnels through a variety of soil and rock strata

A tunnel boring machine (TBM), also known as a "mole", is a machine used to excavate tunnels with a circular cross section through a variety of soil and rock strata. They may also be used for microtunneling. They can bore through anything from hard rock to sand. Tunnel diameters can range from one metre (3.3 ft) to 17.6 metres (58 ft) to date. Tunnels of less than a metre or so in diameter are typically done using trenchless construction methods or horizontal directional drilling rather than TBMs.

The Bathtub

"The Bathtub" refers to the underground foundation area at the site of the World Trade Center and accompanying buildings in New York City. The term bathtub is something of a misnomer, as the area does not hold any water; rather the purpose of its design is to keep water out. The name is more so used to describe its shape of a deep basin with high walls, like a bathtub.


A sandbag is a bag or sack made of hessian (burlap), polypropylene or other sturdy materials that is filled with sand or soil and used for such purposes as flood control, military fortification in trenches and bunkers, shielding glass windows in war zones, ballast, counterweight, and in other applications requiring mobile fortification, such as adding improvised additional protection to armoured vehicles or tanks.

Geologic hazards

A geologic hazard is one of several types of adverse geologic conditions capable of causing damage or loss of property and life. These hazards consist of sudden phenomena and slow phenomena:

Seismic retrofit Modification of existing structures to make them more resistant to seismic activity

Seismic retrofitting is the modification of existing structures to make them more resistant to seismic activity, ground motion, or soil failure due to earthquakes. With better understanding of seismic demand on structures and with our recent experiences with large earthquakes near urban centers, the need of seismic retrofitting is well acknowledged. Prior to the introduction of modern seismic codes in the late 1960s for developed countries and late 1970s for many other parts of the world, many structures were designed without adequate detailing and reinforcement for seismic protection. In view of the imminent problem, various research work has been carried out. State-of-the-art technical guidelines for seismic assessment, retrofit and rehabilitation have been published around the world – such as the ASCE-SEI 41 and the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE)'s guidelines. These codes must be regularly updated; the 1994 Northridge earthquake brought to light the brittleness of welded steel frames, for example.

Earthworks (engineering) engineering works created through the moving or processing of parts of the earths surface

Earthworks are engineering works created through the processing of parts of the earth's surface involving quantities of soil or unformed rock.

The New Austrian tunneling method (NATM), also known as the sequential excavation method (SEM) or sprayed concrete lining method (SCL), is a method of modern tunnel design and construction. This technique first gained attention in the 1960s based on the work of Ladislaus von Rabcewicz, Leopold Müller, and Franz Pacher between 1957 and 1965 in Austria. The name NATM was intended to distinguish it from the old Austrian tunnelling approach. The fundamental difference between this new method of tunneling, as opposed to earlier methods, comes from the economic advantages made available by taking advantage of the inherent geological strength available in the surrounding rock mass to stabilize the tunnel.

Caisson (engineering) Rigid structure to provide workers with a dry working environment below water level

In geotechnical engineering, a caisson is a watertight retaining structure used, for example, to work on the foundations of a bridge pier, for the construction of a concrete dam, or for the repair of ships. Caissons are constructed in such a way that the water can be pumped out, keeping the work environment dry. When piers are being built using an open caisson, and it is not practical to reach suitable soil, friction pilings may be driven to form a suitable sub-foundation. These piles are connected by a foundation pad upon which the column pier is erected.

Shotcrete building material

Shotcrete, gunite or sprayed concrete is concrete or mortar conveyed through a hose and pneumatically projected at high velocity onto a surface, as a construction technique, first used in 1914. It is typically reinforced by conventional steel rods, steel mesh, or fibers.

Drilling and blasting

Drilling and blasting is the controlled use of explosives and other methods such as gas pressure blasting pyrotechnics, to break rock for excavation. It is practiced most often in mining, quarrying and civil engineering such as dam, tunnel or road construction. The result of rock blasting is often known as a rock cut.

Shoring is the process of temporarily supporting a building, vessel, structure, or trench with shores (props) when in danger of collapse or during repairs or alterations. Shoring comes from shore, a timber or metal prop. Shoring may be vertical, angled, or horizontal.

Deep foundation type of building foundation

A deep foundation is a type of foundation that transfers building loads to the earth farther down from the surface than a shallow foundation does to a subsurface layer or a range of depths. A pile or piling is a vertical structural element of a deep foundation, driven or drilled deep into the ground at the building site.

Shallow foundation type of building foundation

A shallow foundation is a type of building foundation that transfers building loads to the earth very near to the surface, rather than to a subsurface layer or a range of depths as does a deep foundation. Shallow foundations include spread footing foundations, mat-slab foundations, slab-on-grade foundations, pad foundations, rubble trench foundations and earthbag foundations.

John Vernon Bartlett is a British civil engineer particularly associated with developments in tunnelling technologies. He was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers from November 1982 to November 1983, and has received various industry honours including the Telford and Sir Frank Whittle Medals.

Demolition tearing-down of buildings and other structures

Demolition, or razing, is the science and engineering in safely and efficiently tearing down of buildings and other man-made structures. Demolition contrasts with deconstruction, which involves taking a building apart while carefully preserving valuable elements for reuse purposes.

Tunnel construction

Tunnels are dug in types of materials varying from soft clay to hard rock. The method of tunnel construction depends on such factors as the ground conditions, the ground water conditions, the length and diameter of the tunnel drive, the depth of the tunnel, the logistics of supporting the tunnel excavation, the final use and shape of the tunnel and appropriate risk management.


  1. Gutberle (1994). "Slurry Walls". Virginia Tech. Archived from the original on 2007-08-24. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  2. "Primo by Ex Libris -" . Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  3. David W. Dunlap (September 11, 2013). "Looking to a Wall That Limited the World Trade Center's Devastation". New York Times . Retrieved September 11, 2013. A portion of the slurry wall was deliberately left exposed in the Foundation Hall of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, set to open next year.