Fellowship furthers grad student’s research to improve pipeline safety

LAWRENCE — A $10,000 Fellowship from the Geosynthetic Institute will provide funding for a University of Kansas School of Engineering graduate student’s research on improving the safety and stability of underground pipeline.

Ryan Corey, a Topeka native and doctoral student in civil engineering with an emphasis in geotechnical engineering, received the one-year GSI Fellowship for the 2011-2012 academic year. The Fellowship is awarded to as many as five students a year from a worldwide pool of applicants. 

The funding allows Corey to continue his research on geosynthetics, a versatile material often used underground to solve a variety of challenges – including serving as a lining at a landfill to prevent contaminants from seeping into groundwater, adding strength to the slope or retaining wall, or filtering out materials and allowing water to pass through when needed.

“Geosynthetics are also a great way to reduce overall costs on a project,” Corey said.  “One example is road construction. Geosynthetics can provide extra strength and durability, so instead of laying pavement that’s, say, 10 inches thick, a company can use 8 inches and save money on materials. Plus, geosynthetics add to the overall lifetime of the road.”

Corey’s research focuses specifically on protecting pipelines that carry hazardous or valuable material, like natural gas or oil. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, between 1992 and 2011 in the United States, there were more than 10,000 significant pipe incidents that resulted in more than 350 fatalities, 1,500 injuries, and $5.3 billion dollars of property damage. 

“I’m working to find the best ways to reduce the stress and strain on a flexible pipe and the soil that surround it caused by stationary or mobile forces on the surface.” Corey said. “This fellowship certainly provides an opportunity of a validation of my research, and that’s great. This is an area that needs more attention. It’s my hope that this will promote the future use of geosynthetics in an area where they are not being used a lot right now.”

Corey said that even though including geosynthetics at the outset of a project adds to the initial costs, there are bound to be savings in the long term.

“The additional safety, stability and durability provided by this material far outweighs the initial price tag on a project.” Corey said.

Corey earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Kansas State University in 1994. He received his master’s degree in civil engineering from KU in 2008 and hopes to finish the work on his doctorate by May 2013.  He conducts his research in the group of Jie Han, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering.