The University of Houston’s Center for Innovative Grouting Materials and Technology (CIGMAT), and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering hosted its 23rd-annual conference and exhibition. “Infrastructure, Energy, Geotechnical, Flooding and Sustainable Issues Related to Houston and Other Major Cities,” on March 2, at the University Hilton Hotel. The all-day event attracted 280 attendees, and featured 15 well-known and influential speakers – representing owners/municipalities, consultants, contractors, material suppliers and academia – who play important roles in meeting the challenges of rapid growth and changing conditions in major cities.
In his welcoming remarks, C. Vipulanandan, Ph.D., P.E., director of CIGMAT and the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology (THC-IT), emphasized the heightened significance of the conference’s host city. Houston faces ongoing infrastructure, economic and technology challenges related to being the country’s fourth-largest city, international energy capital and home of the largest medical center in the world. Devastation left six months earlier by the second-worst hurricane in the country’s history (Harvey), added unprecedented, emergency, far-reaching and long-lasting challenges and changes.
Setting the stage
The opening, general session focused on energy needs around the world, and the increasingly complex infrastructure maintenance and technology advances needed to meet shifts in the Houston-area population and business/industrial environment.
Carol Ellinger Haddock, director of Houston Public Works, discussed plans for developing innovative solutions to maintain and expand water and wastewater facilities in a sustainable manner.
Jason Pettrey, department head for ExxonMobil’s Beaumont Refinery, explained that increases in energy demand around the world are not only due to the growth of industries, but also an increasing middle-class population, especially in Asia. Increased demand does not only affects oil and gas, but expanded solar and wind energy production, as well.
Bill Brudnick, planning director at the Texas Department of Transportation, reviewed new and ongoing highway projects, valued at over several billion dollars, that will be completed or started over the next few years. He also addressed related environmental, maintenance and funding issues.
Flood control, construction issues
The first of four technical sessions was a panel discussion on “Flooding and Construction Issues,” moderated by Rafael Ortega of Aurora Technical Services. Panelists included Atul Hannan, planning director at the Harris County Flood Control District, who discussed new projects that resulted from Hurricane Harvey, and efforts to balance the desired reduction in flood risk with benefits to the community.
Jonathan Marks and David Miller, from the Coastal Water Authority (CWA), reviewed the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project (LBITP), a new 500-million-gallon-per-day (MGD), water supply from the Trinity River to the cities of Houston, Deer Park and Baytown, and many industries along the Houston Ship Channel.
Ravi Kaleyatodi, city of Houston, and Randy Rogers, Houston Waterworks, discussed the two-phased expansion of the city’s Northeast Water Purification Plant – from 80 to 400 MGD – to support steady residential and commercial growth, while complying with a regional mandate to reduce dependency on groundwater.
Transportation, geotechnical issues
Stanley Yin from the Texas Department of Transportation, in Houston, moderated the second technical session, “Transportation and Geotechnical Issues.” Presentations included John Tyler, deputy director of the Harris County Toll Road Authority, who discussed $2.3-billion improvements to the 129-mile tollway system.
Roberto Trevino, executive vice president of Planning, Engineering and Construction at METRO, reviewed maintenance and expansion projects at Houston’s public transportation department over the coming years, including continued growth of the light rail system.
Jaideep Chatterjee, principal engineer from Tolunay-Wong Engineers, talked about geotechnical design considerations for ground storage tanks in southeast Texas and Louisiana, especially due to the unique challenges posed by the area’s Beaumont clay formation and relatively softer soil deposits.
Water, wastewater issues
The third technical session was moderated by Michael Lacy from Houston-based KIT Professionals Inc., a civil/environmental consulting engineering firm.
Jeff Haby, vice president of the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), shared results proving the big difference being made by the Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) reduction program the city developed and implemented in response to a Consent Decree process. Since 2010, SAWS has reduced SSOs by 60 percent.
Matthew Webb, hydrologist from the Texas Water Development Board, talked about the 2018 State Water Plan, and about aquifer storage and recovery as an innovative water storage technology gaining traction in Texas.
Aldo Ranzani, Austin Public Works and Engineering Department, addressed the leaks, infiltration, low pressure, tuberculation and even collapse, plaguing the aging pipeline networks. Increasing the challenge is the careful planning required when repairing and replacing older pipe that often runs under crowded, well-developed and sometimes historic neighborhoods.
Smart Cement for Gas Leak Detection, Fluid Flow Model
In the fourth technical session, Vipulanandan presented results of smart cement for gas leak detection and the fluid flow model he developed for gases and liquids flowing through porous media.
Smart cement composites with highly sensing chemo-thermo-piezoresistive properties, and enhanced physical and mechanical properties, have been developed and characterized to meet application requirements of real-time monitoring. There is increasing concern about gas leaks (methane, carbon dioxide) from various storage facilities through natural rocks and artificially cemented wells representing different types of porous media. Also oil and gases are being extracted from various types of rocks representing porous media.
Darcy’s law, developed in 1856 for laminar flow of water (incompressible fluid) through sand representing a porous medium, clearly identified the hydraulic gradient as an important parameter for the fluid flow. In reality, gases and liquids flowing through porous medium is a complex process. That’s because bio-chemical reactions between the fluid and porous medium, applied and in-situ stresses, and temperatures, affect not only the porous medium properties, but also the flowing fluid properties. Also, flow can be laminar, turbulent or transition, and controlled by the diffusion process.
Through experimental study/tests performed in the CIGMAT laboratory, Vipulanandan developed a three-parameter fluid flow model, generalizing Darcy’s law. The result is the first model in 160 years that totally accounts for flow patterns observed to predict all types of non-linear and linear flows.
The luncheon speaker was Judge Craig Doyal from Montgomery County, (Conroe, Texas), one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S. He discussed the importance of coordination between local and state authorities for successful completion of projects in very limited time frame.
Wayne Klotz, past ASCE president and president and board director of the Houston-area Coastal Water Authority, delivered the 13th-annual Mike W. O’Neill Lecture. Honoring the UH civil engineering teacher for 29 years, former department chair, and one of the world’s leading experts in deep-foundation engineering, the lecture is awarded each year for outstanding contributions to the advancement of the industry.
In “Professional Experiences and Management of Critical Projects,” Klotz shared lessons learned from a career managing projects of all sizes. Whether small or very large, he said, project success requires navigating change from multiple sources — technology, regulations, expectations, personnel, market factors, and/or personal goals and opportunities. Even more, there’s something to learn from every change, whether the outcome was positive or negative.
Following the technical sessions, attendees visited the exhibit area, to view posters detailing various research activities at CIGMAT and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. A number of grouting, pipe manufacturer, material suppliers, pipe condition monitoring and wastewater rehabilitation companies also participated in the exhibition.
Conference proceedings will be published on the CIGMAT web site – cigmat.cive.uh.edu. CIGMAT 2019 is scheduled for March 1, 2019, at the University Hilton, University of Houston campus.