Ground engineering

Understanding and addressing the challenges relating to: ground and underground structures, including tunnelling, piling, ground reinforcements, trenchless technology and pavement engineering; geotechnics, rock mechanics and the interaction of structures with soil (utilising a range of numerical modelling approaches); environmental and hazardous aspects of structures on, off and in the ground (e.g. the effect of climate change).

Over the Delivery Plan period, we aim for the community to focus on delivering against resilience-related goals such as ensuring a reliable infrastructure and mitigating the risks of climate change. We encourage the community to find sustainable solutions to national needs, seek to apply intelligent technologies/systems and maximise the impact of the investment in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC). We will also explore the requirements of early-career researchers (ECRs).

We will maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. By the end of the Delivery Plan, the following themes will characterise the area:

  • Resilient infrastructure: the UK has a strong heritage in this discipline and is at the forefront of research, with substantial links into industry. Investments will deliver against EPSRC's Resilient Nation Ambitions, in particular by addressing (with industry) long-term challenges associated with structure-soil interaction, to prevent failure of critical infrastructure
  • Intelligent technologies: the community needs to continue adopting disruptive technology (e.g. novel applications of sensor technology, or ground-penetrating systems)
  • Sustainability: sustainable solutions for national needs are another challenge which the community should seek to address alongside industry (e.g. decarbonisation by developing green construction materials with fewer emissions, and improved resource-efficient design of structures – these can be addressed alongside the Structural Engineering area).

This area has clear links with others (e.g. Structural Engineering, Built Environment, Infrastructure and Urban Systems). It will be critical for the community to take a whole-systems view regarding the smart cities agenda. Researchers are encouraged to go on addressing cross-Research Council issues, including engaging with social and environmental sciences.

We will work with the community to understand and address leadership or related skills challenges, particularly in relation to ECRs. This will be addressed alongside similar needs affecting Built Environment, Infrastructure and Urban Systems, and Structural Engineering.

Researchers are expected to continue to take a leading role in large infrastructure projects, maximising the outcomes of investments and harnessing the multidisciplinary opportunities.

It is also recognised that this research area is of potential relevance to Official Development Assistance funding streams.

Highlights:

The UK's research community is a world-leader in this area, characterised by key strength in geotechnical engineering. (Evidence source 1) Over the last Delivery Plan, there has been a shift towards geophysics, offshore and climate change analysis, nuclear waste management and infrastructure resilience. Ensuring sustainable, resilient infrastructure in the light of climate change presents a major challenge, (Evidence source 2,3) and this has been identified as a key focus for Ground Engineering. Rapid change towards a digital economy means the UK could be left behind if there is no increased uptake of intelligent technologies. (Evidence source 2)

Large infrastructure projects (e.g. Crossrail) will take place in the near future and rely on increased understanding of how the ground behaves and interacts during construction and whole-life performance. Four-fifths of all construction-related projects supported by EPSRC are delivered alongside industry partners. The Construction 2025 strategy, though, identified limited uptake of research by industry, so research knowledge should be made more visible in the wider construction industry.

There are centres of critical mass for Ground Engineering across the UK. Use of High Performance Computing at these will advance the modelling of soil mechanics. The UKCRIC will build on this, establishing major Ground Engineering labs at Southampton, Cambridge and Birmingham universities.

Two Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) overlap with Ground Engineering research; established during the last Delivery Plan, they will contribute to developing leadership and knowledge. There has been a small increase in overall student numbers associated with this research area that are supported through the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) and Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science & Engineering (CASE). There is strong overlap with student training in associated civil engineering research areas (e.g. Built Environment, Infrastructure and Urban Systems, and Structural Engineering). Skills provision is key to the wider construction sector.

This area has a low number of EPSRC-funded ECRs, in terms of first grants and early-career fellows, with overall funded ECRs falling during the last Delivery Plan - a trend reflected in other civil engineering-related areas.

This research area will deliver against Resilient, Connected and Productive Nation Outcomes, with a particular contribution to the following Ambitions:

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

This can be aided by development of new construction materials and improved and adaptive construction design.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Hazard and risk assessment, seismic design and flood management response, for example, can prevent failure of critical infrastructure.

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

Greater use of instrumentation can help monitor the interaction between buildings and their foundations.

Other relevant Ambitions include:

P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

Other sources:

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Ground engineering (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact details

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