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Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

Numerical modelling and design of pressure tunnels

M. Marence
Head of Tunnelling Department
Pöyry Energy GmbH
Rainerstrasse 29
Salzburg, Austria

The final lining of the pressure tunnels is, in the case of low and middle pressures (up to 20 bar internal pressure),
mostly made of un-reinforced or reinforced concrete. The concrete in such conditions is loaded on tension and
leakage out of the tunnel cannot be excluded. Applicability of the concrete lining must satisfy several conditions,
such as: structural stability, confinement criteria and leakage. Each of these criteria must be fulfilled and is mostly
considered separately in the design. The presented method attempts to unify all design criteria in one model.
Calculation of the excavation, support, final lining construction and operation conditions are integrated in one
procedure taking into consideration all important parameters. The optimal design of the concrete lined section of the
power waterway and the possible extent of the concreted section with reduction of the steel lined length of the power
waterway are the particular design challenges of recent years, especially with the strong increase of the steel price on
the world market.
In the big three dimensional model, the primary state of stress taking into consideration geological history and
characteristics of the rock mass is modelled for roughly the area where tunnel is situated. With mathematical tools
the stresses from the coarse huge model are transformed into a two-dimensional model of the pressure tunnel.
Additionally, results of field tests are included in the model. The excavation of the tunnel with primary system is
modelled by a standardised calculation procedure. The model also includes the final lining that is loaded by all
influences: self weight, shrinkage, filling of the crown gap, consolidation grouting, temperature changing (especially
cooling after first filling with water), internal pressure and ground water pressure in the case of the empty tunnel.
The operational case (full internal water pressure and the empty tunnel under the groundwater level, a coupled
stress-seepage analysis) is carried out.

1. Layout design
Design of the pressure tunnels is a complex decision-making procedure and technical basis have to be clearly
specified and defined. The key decisions which have to be made are:
− horizontal and vertical alignment with respect to topography and existing groundwater levels,
− starting point and length of steel-lined section,
− length of the pressure tunnel that can be unlined or shotcrete lined,
− length of the tunnel lined with plane concrete,
− length of the tunnel that requires reinforced concrete,
− definition of function and extent of contact and consolidation grouting
− definition of circumstances and responses in case of different conditions encountered during construction
The design procedure includes topologic, geologic, hydro-geologic and operational data, and the lining has to satisfy
the structural, confinement and leakage criteria.
Site characterisation and exploration tests for underground works proposes a knowledge of the variables involved in
rock excavation – the geological parameters influencing rock excavation, the rock support and the groundwater
inflow. In the case of pressure tunnels this knowledge is essential, but is not limited thereto and also requires
understanding of a number of geological variables including rock modulus and strength, rock mass permeability,
resistance of rock mass to erosion and slaking, and the minimal in-situ rock stress. Minimum and maximum
groundwater tables are additional key design elements. Therefore, an exploration program is to be prepared with
special care and with sufficient time for definition of all required design parameters. The design parameters have to
be verified and confirmed/updated during the construction period. Restrictions in the exploration program and
Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

insufficient time for their realisation during the preconstruction phase could later lead to cost overruns or operational

1.1 Geology and rock mechanics

Adequate geological characterisation is essential for the successful design of all tunnels. Design information is
limited to surface information, and the limited number of boreholes that will only portray a portion of the varying
geological and geotechnical characteristics that will be encountered along the alignment. A reasonable geotechnical
exploration program has to detect and characterise known or suspected geological features resulting in qualitative
and quantitative descriptions of conditions and parameters. Similar geological units with similar characteristics and
behaviours are grouped in homogenous areas [1, 2]. The resulting quantitative and qualitative descriptions of
conditions and parameters require use of “ranges” rather than “exact numbers” reflecting variability of the
The geotechnical characterisation requires three phases: preliminary characterisation, detailed characterisation and
verification after excavation. It is essential that qualitative input is provided in all three phases and the designer
actively participates in all exploration planning activities and reviews the results and modifies his design based on
newly encountered conditions and new findings.
The preliminary characterisation establishes the feasibility of the project and defines prevailing geological
conditions based on already available information. The designer evaluates and conceptually defines the facility
including “final” horizontal and vertical alignments and setting of special structures, e.g. shafts, gates and caverns.
The detailed characterisation involves application of all relevant approaches, tools and methods developing a
detailed understanding of the geological conditions along the tunnel route. From the limited number of boreholes the
exploration program should obtain maximal possible information. All borings in rock have to be continuously core
drilled and geologically mapped and described by geologist present during drilling. If possible the drilling depth
should be extended below the tunnel invert. The borehole samples have to be tested in the laboratory, but should not
be limited to only density tests and axial compression tests. Also, the borehole has to be used for testing and getting
maximum information. In the borehole camera logging helps for rock joint system definition. The three most
important rock parameters for design of the pressure tunnels – deformability, permeability and primary state of
stress – can also be tested in the borehole. Rock mass deformability around the borehole can be reasonably
determined by a dilatometer test. The hydro-jacking and hydro-fracturing tests give reasonable information about the
primary state of stress in the rock mass. This method explicitly gives the value of the minimal primary stress – a
crucial parameter for pressure tunnel design. Information about other primary stresses and their direction can be
derived. This method also indirectly gives the permeability of the rock mass that can be additionally tested by the
Lugeon method.
During the excavation process and before final lining installation the pressure tunnel has to be inspected and, if
necessary, additional in-situ tests can be performed for better clarification of the rock mass parameters and
optimisation of the final lining design.

1.2 Hydro-geology and groundwater

The hydro-geological characteristics of the project area and the influence of the tunnel and especially reservoir on
the underground water regime have to be investigated. The determination of the groundwater level along the power
waterway is mostly based on spot information (springs, borehole data, site permeability characteristics, etc.)
subjected to inaccuracy and followed by long term observations. The groundwater level varies seasonally, and the
maximum and the minimum groundwater levels are significant for the pressure tunnel design. Maximum ground
water level defines maximal external pressure on the lining in the maintenance period and the minimum
groundwater level affects leakage from the tunnel and may affect the feasibility and economics of the specific design

1.3 Confinement criteria

The pressure tunnel alignment, both horizontal and vertical, within the rock mass is one of the key decisions for
successful hydroelectric power development. In the case of unlined, shotcrete, concrete or reinforced concrete lined
tunnel leakage cannot be omitted. Leaked water can cause hydro-jacking of the surrounding rock mass if
confinement, the ability of rock mass to withstand internal water pressure, is too low. Suppressing hydro-jacking of
the surrounding rock mass requires that the pressure inside the tunnel remains below the minimum in-situ normal
stress in the rock joints near the tunnel. The minimal in situ stress is at the beginning of the design mostly unknown
and the tunnel layout is checked on confinement by one of the rock cover criteria (vertical, Snowy Mountain,
Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

Norwegian). Each of these rock cover criteria uses some assumptions or simplifications that have to be recognised
by the designer.
For the power waterway situated in a mountain flank or in a ridge the confinement criteria becomes a critical issue
for alignment and also for the design and selection of the lining system. In the early stage of the project the minimal
primary stress σmin,rock and the direction of the joint systems are mostly unknown and the confinement criteria can be
written in following form defined as a safety factor (FS):
σ min, rock γ hk
SF = ≈ r r 0
σ max ( pi ) γ whw
where σmax(pi) is the maximum stress outside the tunnel caused by leakage water, γr and γw are the unit weight of the
rock mass and water, hr the overburden height, hw the distance from the tunnel to the maximum static water pressure
in the tunnel and k0 the ratio between the minimum to the maximum primary stress. Under the condition that the
direction of joints and the minimal primary stress is not known and minimal primary stress in the flank or ridge have
approximately a half value of the vertical stress defined by overburden height, the criteria can be visualised as a
circle around the tunnel with a radius similar to the internal water height. If such circle does not intersect the rock
surface, the criteria is satisfied with a safety factor of approximately 1.3 (SF = γr k0 / γw). Such simple geometric
considerations simplify the alignment design in the first project stages and should be analysed in detail during the
following stages. In several pressure tunnels situated in a flank or a ridge, the hydro-jacking tests confirmed the
assumption that a minimal stress is approximately a half value of the vertical overburden stress.
On the portion of the tunnel where the confinement criteria is not satisfied, tight tunnel lining has to be designed. In
the transition zone a section with a thin tightening element – plastic foil, fibreglass or thin steel lining – can be used
as a cost reduction method for relatively expensive steel lined penstocks.

1.4 Concrete lining

If the confinement criterion is satisfied, the rock mass is stiff, strong and impermeable enough, and resistant to
erosion and slaking, the tunnel can be left unlined or merely lined with shotcrete. Otherwise the tunnel must be lined
with plane or reinforced concrete. The main loading of pressure tunnels are static and dynamic internal water
pressure caused by maintenance of turbines and valves. The internal water pressure creates tensile forces in the
lining – unfavourable conditions for concrete. Different methods to decrease, eliminate or overtake tensile forces are
developed. Mostly two systems are selected: un-reinforced concrete lining with pre-stressing and reinforced
concrete lining.
The plane (un-reinforced) concrete lining, as the most economical final lining, is adapted only for tunnels where
only small tensile stresses in lining occur during operation. In pressure tunnels subject to high internal pressures the
plane concrete lining has to be pre-stressed in order to keep it free from fissures. The pre-stressing is made in the
form of grout injection in the gap between the final lining and the surrounding rock mass. The grouting pressure will
lose its intensity by shrinkage, creep and also cooling of the final concrete lining after first filling. The pressure
should be high enough that the lining still stays in compression after internal pressure application. Internal water
pressure is taken by the final lining and surrounding rock mass with dependent on their stiffness. High pressure
grout can be pressed into the gap between lining, and the rock mass or the surrounding rock mass is pre-stressed by
high pressure consolidation grouting. Design for such pre-stressed plane concrete lining is mostly based on the
analytical solution described by Seeber [3].
Without so called pre-stressing of the final lining a development of the cracks in the lining cannot be prevented.
Reinforcement will increase the number of cracks and limit their width. Reinforcement prevents uncontrolled cracks
and with their limited width also reduces water losses. Reinforced concrete lining is often designed on the
assumption that the water pressure acts only on the inner surface of the lining that corresponds with assumption that
the tunnel lining is tight, resulting in a high amount of reinforcement being required. In practice, in the reinforced
concrete lining with controlled cracks the water leaks out in a controlled manner. Dependent on the head loss trough
the cracks a portion of the internal water pressure acts on the outside of the lining. Mechanical-hydraulic interaction
will occur because width of the cracks in the lining depends on the differential pressure that again is dependent on
the head loss through the cracked concrete. An analytical iterative solution is presented by Schleiss [4]. Leaked
water increases groundwater pressure around the tunnel. The extent of the area with increased groundwater pressure,
mobilised pressure and at the end real water losses is dependent on the rock mass permeability. Consolidation
grouting around the tunnel decreases the permeability of the rock mass and decreases the water losses and indirectly
the reinforcement amount.
A combination of reinforced concrete lining and partially pre-stressed lining by high pressure grouting is used in the
project of the hydroelectric power plant Ermenek in Turkey [5].
Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

Both plane concrete and reinforced concrete lining are not absolutely tight lining systems and water can leak out –
designer speaks of a technically tight lining. Consolidation grouting around the tunnel plays a crucial role in
reduction of the leakage and has to be performed very cautiously and the efficiency of consolidation grouting must
be tested. The absolute water level that leaks out of the tunnel represents a energy loss, but can also cause stability
problems and hydro-jacking around the tunnel. Merit [6] specifies leakage higher then 10 l/s/km as unacceptable and
in praxis a similar criteria with 1-2 l/s/km/bar is used.

2. Numerical model
There are a number of general purpose computer programs (ABAQUS, ADINA ANSYS, etc.) and specific
computer programs (FLAC, UDEC, PHASE2, FINAL, etc.) that can be used for numerical modelling of the tunnel
excavation and operational stages. However the model cannot portray the nature but should include most of the
influences taking into account the available information. Parallel to the sophisticated numerical modelling simple
analytical solutions have to be prepared and used as a possibility check for sophisticated numerical calculations. In
any case the numerical model has to follow as much as possible the excavation process, lining installation procedure
and operational loading taking into consideration most phenomena with influence on the performance.
The finite element program FINAL [7] has been developed specially for underground works in soil and rock mass.
Complicated three-dimensional interaction between rock mass, with its topology and geology, and the pressure
tunnel is continuously changing along the tunnel length. The primary state of stress influences tunnel excavation but
plays a significant role also during construction and operation. Pressure tunnels, because of their extent, are still
normally modelled as two dimensional structures. The 2D numerical model simulates excavation and support phases
on one slice under plane strain conditions. Including of the primary state of stress on the inclined surfaces is greatly
influenced by used boundary conditions and material properties. The stress mapping method [8] divides a problem
into two structural systems; a micro model dealing with a real problem and a macro model modelling the entire
mountain by relatively coarse 3D element mesh. The macro model includes the stress situation in the mountain with
possibility for including geological stress history and movements. The micro model is a standard 2D model
including the real geometry and all important members. The stresses are mapped from the macro model into the
micro model with a special numeric technique.

Fig. 1. Primary stress mapping method

Modelling of excavation and primary support is described in [9]. The model includes most parameters that cannot be
included in the simple analytical calculations as rock mass anisotropy and different materials, discontinuities,
primary state of stress different from hydrostatic, excavation phases and support installation, etc. Modelling of the
final lining follows the excavation and primary support calculation and consequently includes full deformation and
Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

stress history. Between the primary lining and the final lining a gap is modelled. The gap allows modelling of all
important influences such as: void forming caused by shrinkage and self weight of the final lining, void grouting,
contact and consolidation grouting, rest consolidation pressure after creep, temperature changing caused by first
filling of the tunnel with cold water as well as internal and external water pressure. An analytical solution for plane
concrete lining design by Seeber [3] is shown on Figure 3.

Debris Debris


Weathered rock
Rock mass

Fig. 2: Encountered geological cross-section and numerical model

In the case of consolidation pressure that is too low, the cooling of the lining will loosen the contact between the
primary and the final lining and so a gap will occur. During operation with internal water pressure this gap hinders
load transfer from the final lining to the surrounding rock mass and the lining must take the full portion of the
internal pressure, up to the closing of the gap resulting in higher stress levels in the final lining. Therefore one of the
crucial functions of the consolidation and contact grouting is to achieve a continuous contact with the surrounding
rock mass during operation.


Injection pressure
on pump
Pressure [N/mm ]

Creep looses

1.00 Max design

Temperature internal
looses pressure

-1.E-03 -8.E-04 -6.E-04 -4.E-04 -2.E-04 0.E+00 2.E-04 4.E-04



Strain [-]
Concrete ring characteristic line System characteristic line
Rock mass characteristic line Design points

Fig. 3: Analytical solution for plane concrete lining [3] Fig.4: Model of high-pressure consolidation grouting

In the case of the plane concrete lining the rest grouting pressure must be high enough so that the concrete lining
stays under compression during operation. The surrounding rock mass takes a part of the internal water pressure
dependent on the rock mass stiffness. The same philosophy can be used by the reinforced concrete lining where the
rest pre-stressing pressure reduces the reinforcement amount.
In both cases, by plane and reinforced final lining the consolidation grouting procedure and pressures have to be
carefully selected. Maximal grouting pressure is limited by concrete lining strength and the minimal primary stress
Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

in the surrounding rock mass. High grouting pressure produces high pressures on the tunnel lining and should be
applied on then most possible uniform way. The best way in practice is to apply simultaneously the grouting
pressure in all holes in one cross-section – whole ring at once (Figure 6).

Fig. 5: Reinforcement in headrace pressure tunnel Fig.6: High-pressure consolidation grouting

3. Grouting
Grouting is the injection of particles in a fluid medium into the rock voids mainly for improvement of the rock mass
characteristics. Around the pressure tunnels grouting is performed mainly to increase the rock mass stiffness, to
reduce the rock mass permeability and to achieve a contact between rock mass and the final tunnel lining. In
concrete lined tunnels three types of grouting can be distinguished:
− Void filling caused by concreting process - mostly in the tunnel crown
− Contact grouting achieving continuous contact around the tunnel
− Consolidation grouting improving the rock mass characteristics around the tunnel
Void grouting involves filling of the voids between cast-in-place concrete lining and surrounding rock mass. Fluid
fresh concrete tends to maintain horizontal surface and voids can occur on the highest point. The voids also develop
due to presence of trapped air, a poor concrete placement procedure, insufficient concrete slump or unstable
concrete. The voids have to be filled with low pressure grout or mortar substituting missing concrete lining.
Contact grouting around the tunnel has a function to fill possible air traps in overbreak areas and other irregularities
occurred by pouring process, fill bleeding and shrinkage gap and also a gap between lining caused by temperature
changing – cooling of the concrete lining. The contact grouting is performed around the tunnel through prepared or
drilled boreholes with length of minimal 50 cm in the surrounding rock mass. Grouting mix and pressure have to be
defined based on the project settings, and grouting pressures up to 5 bar are usual.
The function of the consolidation grouting is to improve the physical characteristics of the surrounding rock mass –
increase of the rock mass stiffness, and reduction of the rock mass permeability. The consolidation grouting is
performed in a radial direction or perpendicular to the dominant joint system. The length and pattern of the
consolidation boreholes is dependent on geological conditions and the result that should be achieved. The length of
boreholes is mostly in range of tunnel radius to tunnel diameter with one borehole per 10-15 m² of the tunnel lining.
Grouting pressures are normally 5-10 bar except in case of pre-stressing of the plane concrete lining where high
pressures up to 30 bar are usual.
If the grouting packer is situated in concrete lining, the consolidation grouting and the contact grouting can be
performed in same stage.
The effect of consolidation grouting on surrounding rock mass can easily be checked by tests in additional
boreholes. For a pressure tunnel situated in karstic limestone, Pöyry Energy GmbH developed a testing procedure
that has been implemented and has given a very good possibility for interpretation of the grouting efficiency. During
the grouting procedure, partly up to 27 bar, grout takes and pressures have been recorded. Recorded takes have been
compared with encountered geology and places for additional testing hole are defined. A testing hole is drilled up to
the half of the consolidation depth and in the borehole a water pressure test (WPT) is performed. Based on the test
results – Lugeon values – additional measures are decided. The decision flow chart is shown on Figure 7.
Hydro 2008 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

Fig. 7: Consolidation grouting efficiency test

4. Conclusion
The design of the concrete final lining of pressure tunnels is performed using relatively simple analytical solutions
or by numerical methods. The analytical solutions are loaded with simplifications and assumptions, but are sound
designer tools for the early design phases where not all parameters are known and relatively simple and fast
parametric studies are needed. Additionally, the analytical solutions serve for fast judgment and control of the
numerical methods. The numerical methods used for modelling of underground excavation, primary support and the
final lining may not portray nature as it is, but have to explain observed phenomena or predict phenomena before
observation is possible. The numerical calculations are only useful when the underlying model correctly describes
natural behaviour including most of the influences. The designer has to understand the real behaviour and then try to
model it.
In any case, the numerical model has to follow as much as possible the excavation process, lining installation
procedure and operational loading taking into consideration the phenomena with the most influence on the
performance. In the whole design process the designer should not forget that the best analytical or numerical
methods cannot replace the sound engineering judgement.

References (10pt bold heading)

1. Austrian geotechnical society ÖGG, “Richtlinie für Geomechanische Planung von Untertagebauarbeiten mit zyklischen
Vortrieb“, Special brochure, 50th geomechanical Kolloquium, Salzburg, 2001.
2. Marence, M., “Geotechnical design of underground structures”, Proceedings, Underground Construction, London, 2003.
3. Seeber, G., “Power conduits for high-head plants – Part I and II”, Water power and dam construction, June and July 1985
4. Schleiss, A.J., “Design of reinforced concrete lining of pressure tunnels and shafts”, Hydropower and dams, 1997.
5. Salk, P., Yuca, S., Marence, M., Kazanc, H., Hofmann, W., Berger, W. and Ibetsberger, F., “Ermenek dam and
hydroelectric power plant: a model of bilateral Cooperation”, Tunnel, Vol3, 2007.
6. Merritt, A.H., “Geological and geotechnical considerations for pressure tunnels.” Proceedings, Geo-engineering for
underground facilities. 1999.
7. Swoboda, G., “Computer program FINAL – finite element analyses of linear and non-linear structures under static and
dynamic loadings – Version 7.2”, University of Innsbruck, 2007.
8. Swoboda, G, Mahmoud, M.A. and Hladik, I., “Simulation of initial stresses for tunnel models”, Proceedings 10 th
IACMAG Conference Tuscon, Balkema, 2001.
9. Swoboda, G, Marence, M. and Mader, I., “Finite element modelling of tunnel excavation”, Engineering Modelling, Vol.
6, 1993.

The Author
M. Marence graduated from the Civil Engineering Faculty of the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and earned a doctorate at the
University of Innsbruck, Austria. He worked for several international consulting companies before joining POYRY ENERGY
GmbH in 1994. He has been involved in feasibility studies, tender designs and detail designs for a number of large and small
hydro projects Austria, Europe and Asia. Beginning in 2008, he is head of the Tunnelling and Rock Mechanics Department in
addition to his design and project management tasks.