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Experimental and numerical study of the hydromechanical behaviour of bentonite pellet-powder mixtures

Abstract : Bentonite based materials are considered as a sealing material in radioactive waste disposal concepts because of their low permeability, radionuclide retention capacity and ability to swell upon hydration, thus filling technological gaps. Within this context, bentonite pellet mixtures have been studied owing to operational convenience. Pellets are laid in the galleries in a dry state as a granular assembly. The mixture progressively becomes more homogeneous upon hydration by the pore water of the host rock. Before homogenisation, the granular structure of the material controls the macroscopic behaviour of the mixture.The present work focuses on the experimental characterisation and numerical modelling of a mixture of bentonite pellet and crushed pellet (powder), in proportion 70/30 in dry mass, a candidate sealing material in the French concept of radioactive waste disposal. The proposition, implementation and validation of a new modelling framework, considering features such as the initial granular structure of the material or local heterogeneities of densities, is the main objective of this PhD work.The influence of the initial granular structure is evidenced by performing suction-controlled swelling pressure tests in the laboratory, using samples of various powder contents. From grain-level experimental characterisation, a simple model describing the hydromechanical behaviour of a pellet is proposed and implemented in a Discrete Element Method (DEM) code. Using DEM and the proposed model, aforementioned swelling pressure tests performed on samples containing no powder are satisfactorily simulated. The same method is used to model large granular assemblies of various pellet densities upon hydromechanical loadings. Relevant parameters involved in the macroscopic behaviour of pellet mixtures in “granular” state are identified from simulation results and constitutive laws are proposed to describe the hydromechanical behaviour of these materials using a continuum mechanics approach.The transition from “granular” state to “homogenised” state is described by criteria proposed from experimental results and data available in the literature and involves suction and relative volume fractions of pellet and powder. A modified version of the Barcelona Basic Model is proposed to model the material behaviour in “homogenised” state. The proposed model is implemented in the Finite Element Method (FEM) code BIL. Using a single set of parameters, all swelling pressure tests performed in the laboratory are satisfactorily reproduced in FEM simulations along the entire hydration path.The material behaviour upon hydration in constant volume condition is finally studied at a larger scale by performing mock-up imbibition tests, using various powder contents. Cells have a square section; a glass side and a camera allow the texture to be observed during hydration. The dominance of vapour transfers in the saturation process of the material, the influence and evolution of the granular structure upon hydration, and the influence of the powder content on the macroscopic response are notably identified. Transfer laws are proposed to describe the observed material behaviour in the mock-up tests and implemented in BIL.The realisation of larger scale coupled simulations using the proposed hydromechanical model is a perspective arising from this PhD work. Predictive simulations could be performed at the structure scale, considering relevant features such as the initial granular structure and local heterogeneities of density in the sealing plugs
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Benjamin Dardé. Experimental and numerical study of the hydromechanical behaviour of bentonite pellet-powder mixtures. Géotechnique. Université Paris-Est, 2019. English. ⟨NNT : 2019PESC1030⟩. ⟨tel-02884083⟩

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