Crushable granular materials exhibit a complex hydro-mechanical behavior. On the one hand, the hydraulic state alters the crushability of the solid matrix. On the other one, particle fragmentation causes major variations of grain and pore size distributions, thus impacting hydraulic properties such as permeability and water retention curve (WRC). This paper addresses the continuum modeling of grain crushing in unsaturated sands within the framework of the Breakage Mechanics theory. This choice enables us to discuss the role of an evolving grain size distribution (GSD) on both mechanical and hydraulic properties. First, data available in the literature about the evolution of the WRC upon grain crushing are discussed, thus assessing the accuracy of the hypotheses about its evolution. Then, the model is used to simulate various hydro-mechanical loading paths, showing that it is possible to capture a rich set of macroscopic couplings associated with either high-pressure compression or wetting. Finally, the model is used to investigate the grainsize dependency of these coupling effects. Physical considerations at the micro-scale are used to elucidate the effect of grain breakage on the predicted coupling terms, setting a vision for the future application of this modeling approach also to other classes of geomaterials, such as rockfill and granular rocks.


Grain crushing is involved in a variety of geomechanics applications, from energy technology to natural hazards [1-4]. Field and laboratory evidences show that the fluctuation of the hydraulic state tends to cause particle breakage [5-7]. The hydrologic properties also evolve significantly as a result of fragmentation [8]. Hence, mechanical and hydraulic processes in crushable media involve two-way constitutive couplings and require specific theoretical and computational treatment.

Breakage Mechanics [9] is a theoretical framework that, by means of an internal variable related with the GSD, is able to capture the microstructural changes arising upon crushing. By linking this approach to the capillary theory, it has been possible to predict the coupling between the degree of saturation and the yielding of a wet assembly [10]. Such approach has also been used to predict the size dependency of the crushing stress of unsaturated sands [11], as well as the coupling terms required to model their incremental hydro-mechanical response [12]. This paper builds on these findings and focuses on the assessment of the crushing-dependence of the WRC, as well as on its impact on the evolution of the macroscopic properties measured during loading and/or wetting paths.

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