JACKSONVILLE – A Jacksonville-based foam manufacturer has gotten permission from the Florida Department of Transportation to supply large blocks of polystyrene foam used in road construction. Royal Foam Inc. is one of four manufacturers in the state to produce expanded polystyrene foam, or Geofoam as it’s known. Geofoam is a lightweight, rigid foam plastic that is a useful alternative to filler soil in road construction because it can be more efficient and is about 100 times lighter than most filler soil. Royal Foam, located on the Northside, manufactures Geofoam in large blocks, 24 feet in length and weighing between 288 and 576 pounds, said Neil Hanekom, Geofoam specialist for Royal Foam.
The foam blocks are used to provide a solid base and to decrease the chances of improper road settlement for roadways being built over soft-soil deposit areas, which are quite prevalent in Florida, said David Horhota, the state geotechnical materials engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation’s State Materials Office. “This is good to be used for long-term performance as a lightweight fill,” he said. “When you build these embankments for roadways over soft-soil deposits, one way to mitigate settlements in the road is to use lightweight foam.” Geofoam has been used frequently in road projects in Utah and Wisconsin and also for the runway at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Engineers in Utah used Geofoam to rapidly renovate Interstate 15 in time for Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Olympics. The $1.6 billion, 17-mile road project needed to be done in four years, which is about half the time typically needed. The engineers used about 120,000 cubic meters for the project’s roadways and embankments, making it the largest use of Geofoam for a single project. Florida’s soft-soil conditions make Geofoam a likely candidate as an alternative for filler, but Geofoam has its disadvantages, Horhota said. There have been concerns regarding Geofoam’s weight in watery conditions, as well as its resistance to gasoline in the event of spills. “There has been a lot of work done on the side of manufacturers to produce a Geofoam product that is resistant to disintegration from gas,” Horhota said.
Another concern is that the price of Geofoam is vulnerable to fuel prices because the resin used to make the foam is a petroleum byproduct, Horhota said. Locally, construction companies have shown interest in using Geofoam on projects like the Atlantic and Kernan boulevards overpass and also to use in place of pilings for the port expansion. Neither of the projects’ engineers have agreed to use Geofoam yet, but Hanekom said there is interest in the product. Royal Foam has been manufacturing the foam blocks for 10 years for use in architectural design projects, but within the past year, have been marketing the product for road construction, Hanekom said. “The Florida Department of Transportation has really been our big supporter so far,” he said. The foam has also been used to prevent landslides, and for siding, insulation and floating docks.