Indian-Australian professor drives sustainable ground infrastructure with nature-based solutions

Dr Sanjay Kumar Shukla, a leading expert in Civil and Geotechnical Engineering, is championing nature-based approaches to ground infrastructure, blending ancient wisdom with modern technology to create sustainable solutions.

In a world grappling with climate change, the quest for sustainable infrastructure has never been more urgent. Indian-Australian researcher Dr Sanjay Kumar Shukla, a leading expert in Civil and Geotechnical Engineering, is championing nature-based approaches to ground infrastructure, blending ancient wisdom with modern technology to create sustainable solutions.

Dr Shukla says that a sustainable future is in using reinforced soil. This is an age-old technique that involves enhancing the engineering properties of soil, such as strength, stiffness, permeability, and compressibility using various materials. This practice is observed even in nature where vegetation and animals utilize soil reinforcement for their needs and is now evolving with synthetic and natural fibers to create resilient ground structures.

Image Source: “Fundamentals of Fibre-Reinforced Soil Engineering,” Springer Nature, 2017 (Supplied)

“Soil reinforcement today commonly employs synthetic-polymer products known as geosynthetics and natural fiber-based options called geonaturals,” explains Prof. Shukla.

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These materials are essential in constructing and maintaining cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly infrastructures. From retaining walls to pavements and embankments to slope stabilization, these advanced materials are strategically placed to enhance soil properties, forming what is known as reinforced soil. The field dedicated to this practice is geosynthetic engineering.

Additionally, Dr Shukla notes, “Soils can be enhanced by blending them with synthetic, natural, or waste fibers, ensuring uniform dispersion throughout the soil mass.” This technique results in randomly distributed fiber-reinforced soils (RDFRS) or fiber-reinforced soils (FRS), a specialized area termed fiber-reinforced soil engineering. To advance this field, developing and implementing standards and codes of practice is crucial.

Dr Shukla, the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Geosynthetics and Ground Engineering, and the Founding Leader of the Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering Research Group at Edith Cowan University, has authored several seminal books on geosynthetic engineering. His works, including “An Introduction to Geosynthetic Engineering” and “Fundamentals of Geosynthetic Engineering,” serve as foundational texts in the field.

A globally recognized authority, Dr Shukla’s expertise was showcased at the 12th International Conference on Geosynthetics in Rome in September 2023, and he is set to conduct a course on fiber-reinforced soils at GeoAmericas 2024 in Toronto, Canada. These prestigious conferences highlight his pivotal role in promoting sustainable engineering practices.

Traditional infrastructure methods have significantly contributed to global warming through substantial carbon emissions. Dr Shukla emphasizes the importance of integrating geosynthetics, geonaturals, and fibers with ground engineering techniques to enhance materials such as coal ashes and mine tailings while prioritizing sustainability. This approach aims to reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions, and reliance on transported materials by utilizing recycled and locally available resources. A comprehensive life-cycle assessment, including carbon footprint estimation, is essential to ensure environmentally conscious engineering practices.

Since the inception of his career, Dr Shukla has been a tireless advocate for sustainable solutions in ground infrastructure. His extensive research, numerous publications, and authored books reflect his unwavering dedication to this cause. His contributions were recognized by the International Geosynthetics Society, USA, with the prestigious IGS Award in 2018, underscoring the global impact of his work.

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Through his pioneering efforts, Dr Shukla is not only advancing the field of geosynthetic engineering but also paving the way for a sustainable future in ground infrastructure. His mission is a testament to the power of blending traditional practices with modern innovations to create resilient and eco-friendly solutions for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

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