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GSI’s changing landscape

News | February 1, 2014 | By:

Since its founding in 1986 as the Geosynthetic Research Institute (GRI) within Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa., the associated research activity gradually transitioned from federally funded projects, mainly via the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to consortium suggested projects that were of major interest to the members and their clients.

This transition brought about the enlarged mandate from GRI to the Geosynthetic Institute (GSI) in 1991 with subinstitutes for research, education, information, accreditation, and certification. It also necessitated our move in 1997 from Drexel to our current location in Folsom, Pa., close to the Philadelphia International Airport. This location was fortunate because yet another change occurred in the nature of our membership. From essentially all U.S.-based members, we now have a worldwide membership as follows:

North America primarily = 27 (45%)

Europe primarily = 10 (17%)

South America primarily = 5 (8%)

Asia primarily = 5 (8%)

Africa primarily = 2 (4%)

Other international = 11 (18%)

Total = 60 (100%)

Note that there are an additional 18 U.S.-based state agency associate members that are not included in the above total.

This geographic membership change came about naturally (without any advertising) and followed the growth of geosynthetics from its North American and European roots to a worldwide technology.

The implications of such worldwide activity, however, requires the desirable normalization of the many segments of the technology. Some commentary on these individual segments follows.

Regarding geosynthetics manufacturing, the international growth appears almost seamless. The various products are formulated, produced, and transported in a similar manner depending on the scope and diversity of the manufacturer. Regarding geosynthetic installation, best practices should be common across different countries but there is considerable “catch-up” for emerging countries that are just becoming accustomed to geosynthetics.

Regarding geosynthetic regulations, the patterns set by the EPA in the U.S. and Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) have clearly set the tone for waste containment. However, other applications in transportation, geotechnical, hydraulics, mining, agriculture, and aquaculture are largely unregulated except for niche markets such as shale gas and coal combustion residuals (“coal ash”).

The issue of having prescribed regulations (rather than generalized performance regulations) is somewhat dicey and remains for a future discussion as to the pros and cons.

Regarding geosynthetic design, there is worldwide uniformity. This is largely due to the borderless publication of books, journals, conference proceedings, and distance learning via the Internet.

Regarding geosynthetic testing, the “big two” (ASTM and ISO) have considerable work to do to normalize their respective activities. This refers not only to individual standards but even to geosynthetics terminology.

Regarding private and public owners dealing with geosynthetics, the landscape is extremely uneven. Waste containment facility owners are very aware of the nuances of geosynthetics. But many highway agencies and, essentially, all private developers still appear to struggle with even the fundamental basics regarding geosynthetic materials. In the newer emerging areas of geosynthetics just mentioned, owners are only beginning with their exposure to geosynthetics—e.g., they all seem to begin with asking “How long will the geosynthetic last?”

It is this last group—the private and public owners—who can and should be involved with geosynthetics. GSI sees itself making a major effort with regard to geosynthetics knowledge and proper use. GSI publications will be forthcoming in publications such as owners’ trade magazines, owners’ newsletters, case histories to owners, webinars to owners, etc. In doing so, we hope to present to them all segments of the geosynthetics technology in a fair and unbiased manner.

Bob Koerner, Ph.D., P.E., NAE, is the director emeritus of Geosynthetic Institute (GSI) and is a member of Geosynthetics magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee. GSI: +1 610 522 8440,

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