Geosynthetics are manufactured polymeric products used with materials such as stone or soil as part of manmade projects, such as buildings or roads. These products or materials can be used, often in conjunction with natural materials, for a vast variety of purposes. Geotextiles, for instance, can be used to separate or filter soil, and geomembranes are often used as impermeable liners for ponds or other manmade bodies of water. The many diverse uses of geosynthetics are unified by the fact that nearly all of them are used to solve problems related to civil engineering. Civil engineering is a field of engineering devoted to building and maintaining such manmade environmental features as roads, canals, buildings, and bridges.
Many different types of materials used to address a range of civil engineering problems fall into the broad category of geosynthetics. Geogrids are geosynthetic polymeric materials arranged like nets, with wide spaces between grid-like sections of material. They are often used within soil and other natural materials to increase their stability and capacity to hold weight. Geofoam is a foam-like product made with polymeric materials and crafted into lightweight blocks that can be used whenever space-filling materials are needed. Other types of geosynthetics include geocells, geotextiles, geocomposites, and geomembranes.
These categories of geosynthetics can serve a variety of different specific functions, which can generally be organized into a few broad functional categories. Some geosynthetics are used to separate distinct materials, such as different types of soil, so that both can remain completely intact. Others are used for filtration, allowing adequate liquid drainage but preventing harmful materials from flowing away with the liquid. Still others may be used for reinforcement purposes, meaning that they are intended to increase the overall stability and load-bearing capacity of a material or substance. Other possible functional categories for geosynthetic materials include containment, drainage, and erosion control.
Geosynthetics can, in many circumstances, be used to solve civil engineering problems much more effectively than entirely natural solutions could. A problem that would otherwise require carefully-arranged layers of plants, soil, and stone, for instance, may be solvable with a single geosynthetic layer. Furthermore, geosynthetics tend to be easier to place and maintain than many natural solutions. If they are not placed correctly, however, geosynthetic materials often function poorly or not at all, so it is very important to make sure they are used properly. Furthermore, such polymeric substances may degrade or become damaged if stored or handled improperly.