ERDC, Navy Explore Alternative Materials for Quay Wall Restoration

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is collaborating with the Navy to reinforce quay walls, which are areas around a wharf or pier that hold back dirt.

ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL) recently hosted a materials workshop for the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, assigned to Naval Construction Group TWO and stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi.

An offshoot of the laboratory’s quay wall improvement project, the group explored the method of using fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) material to build sheet pile walls.

A quay wall extension usually has a deck on top that can be used for loading or unloading a boat. Sheet piles are sections of sheet materials with interlocking edges that are driven into the ground to form the wall. Traditional sheet piles are made of steel; however, FRP is a composite material made of a polymer matrix reinforced with fibers.

“It’s an improvement over steel, because it’s a lot lighter,” said Capt. Patrick Border, a research engineer with ERDC-CHL. “It’s a lot cheaper and reduces the amount of equipment needed to handle it, which makes it attractive for uses in remote locations. It’s also resistant to environmental factors like sea water and ultraviolet.”

Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, stationed out of Gulfport, Miss., cut sheet piles made from a fiber-reinforced polymer material. The group attended a training workshop, hosted by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory in Vicksburg, Miss., on using the material to restore quay walls, May 11, 2023. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Carol C. Coleman)
Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, stationed out of Gulfport, Miss., cut sheet piles made from a fiber-reinforced polymer material. The group attended a training workshop, hosted by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory in Vicksburg, Miss., on using the material to restore quay walls, May 11, 2023. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Carol C. Coleman)

“You can cut it into a variety of lengths either ahead of time or on site,” he said. “The material can be shipped inside CONEX boxes and can even be picked up by hand with just a couple of people. It’s very easy to work with, and it’s quick to construct.”

The Navy became interested in the material after completing a quay wall restoration project with ERDC-CHL earlier this year.

“We collaborated on a project in Gulfport where we built a small extension of a pier out of the quay wall material,” said Border. “It worked out pretty well, so they wanted to send some of their builders up here to train on the material.”

With the success of the workshop, the laboratory has hopes of expanding into a broader program.

“Hopefully, this year or next year we’ll have another group coming through,” said Border. “We currently don’t have a formalized class, but we are trying to move in that direction.”

In the meantime, CHL has a few more renovation projects coming up that will benefit from the use of the FRP sheet piles.

“We have projects at Camp Shelby and the Port of Gulfport,” said Border. “There’s two on islands — one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific — that have been identified for quay wall restoration with this material.”

“From the Army’s point of view, we used to have a lot of capability to repair ports, but that’s weathered away over the past couple of decades,” he added. “We are trying to get back into that, and this new material will make it much easier to do larger construction missions.”

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