Longevity of HDPE Geomembranes in Geoenvironmental Applications
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With sufficient time, a high density polyethylene geomembrane will degrade and lose its engineering properties until ruptures signal the end of its service-life. This thesis examines the longevity of nine different geomembranes; five of them were of different thickness manufactured from the same resin. The degradation of properties and time to failure are investigated for geomembranes: in immersion tests; as a part of a landfill composite liner; and, exposed to the elements. The different thermal and stress histories associated with manufacturing geomembranes of different thickness are shown to affect their morphological structure; consequently, their stress crack resistance. When immersed in synthetic leachate, it was found that: (a) thicker geomembranes have a longer antioxidants depletion time but the effect of thickness decreases with temperature and is less than expected; (b) inferences of geomembrane’s longevity based on its initial properties may be misleading because a geomembrane may chemically degrade (as manifested by the change in melt index) despite the presence of a significant amount of stabilizers (as manifested by the measured high pressure oxidative induction time); and, (c) stress crack resistance may change before antioxidant depletion or chemical degradation takes place, likely, due to changes in geomembrane morphological structure with the maximum decrease being observed at 55oC. Reductions also were measured for geomembrane immersed in air and water at 55oC. The geomembrane aged in a simulated landfill liner at 85oC is shown to have service-life as little as three years with 30,000 to >2.0 million ruptures/hectare at failure. For exposed geomembranes in Alumbrera (Argentina), samples were exhumed from two mine facilities after ~16 years of exposure. The antioxidants in exposed samples depleted to residual and the stress crack resistance had dropped to as low as 70 hours. Samples were exhumed from a different exposed geomembrane in a test site in Godfrey (Canada) after six years of exposure. The antioxidants were partially depleted, with depletion to residual projected to take at least 20 years; however, despite no evidence of chemical ageing, the stress crack resistance had decreased from 330 to 190 hours, likely due to changes in the morphological structure of the geomembrane.