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Dr Benjamin Cerfontaine PhD

Lecturer in geotechnical engineering

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Benjamin Cerfontaine is a lecturer in geotechnical engineering at the University of Southampton within Engineering and Physical Sciences

Understanding the fundamental behaviour of geomaterials at the micro- and macro-scales is essential to predict the performance of geo-structures. Combining physical and numerical modelling of both scales will lead to a new generation of more reliable and accurate design methods.

He is a geotechnical engineer, specialised in environmental geotechnics and the development of ground-related solutions to foster renewable energy development. He has mainly worked on foundations for offshore wind or wave renewable energy devices, but also on geotechnical aspects of shallow geothermal energy or pumped-storage hydroelectricity.

His main goal is to foster innovative geotechnical solutions (foundation, design methods, probing…) based on an improved understanding of the fundamental behaviour of geomaterials. He is particularly interested in complex loading of soils, for instance induced by the cyclic loading of foundations or rotary installation of piles. His background is a mix of advanced numerical modelling (FEM, DEM) and physical modelling (centrifuge) whose combination enables an insightful understanding of geomaterial and foundation behaviour.

He particularly enjoys transdisciplinary collaborations, for instance combining anchor geotechnical aspects, fluid dynamics and structural dynamics to simulate an entire floating wind turbine system. He has worked with several companies to develop new anchors for floating devices, embedded in rock or sand.

He obtained his PhD at the University of Liège (Belgium) in 2014 and stayed there for a post-doc. He was awarded an EU-funded MSCA individual fellowship and moved to Dundee (UK) in 2017. He joined the University of Southampton in 2020.

Research interests

Benjamin is particularly interested in physical and numerical modelling methods applied to the improvement of offshore anchor and foundation design. He is particularly keen to combine observations from the macroscopic and microscopic scales to develop a physically-based understanding and design of geotechnical structures.

1) Multiphysical couplings and cyclic loading of foundations

This research focused on the complex hydro-mechanical couplings and partial drainage occurring around suction caissons while they are cyclically loaded. Offshore foundation behaviour is usually considered either drained or undrained. However, during a storm, granular soil response is only partially drained. This research developed numerical finite elements tools, from constitutive model to coupled interface elements, to simulate suction anchors cyclic loading and uplift. It shows that the partial drainage can be beneficial and limits caisson settlement under some circumstances.

Variation of pore water pressure around a suction caisson
Variation of pore water pressure around a suction caisson

2) Innovative anchors for floating platforms

Offshore renewable energy devices (wind, wave, tidal) are expected to be deployed in deep waters, where the energy potential is greater. This transition requires the development of efficient anchor design methods, accounting for great tensile loads. Screw anchors combine the lateral capacity of a pile, with the uplift capacity of a plate anchor. This research work combined centrifuge and finite element modelling to investigate large screw anchor capacity and failure mechanism. A rapid design optimisation algorithm was ultimately derived.

Optimal design of screw anchors
Optimal design of screw anchors

3) Silent piling method

Installation of foundation can be a critical step, limiting the dimensions of structures that can practically be installed. More restrictive noise emission regulations limit the use of traditional pile driving or require costly mitigation methods. This research investigated how alternative methods, such as jacking or rotary jacking of (screw) piles enables the installation of foundations/anchors whose dimensions meet the needs of the offshore industry. Discrete Element Modelling was undertaken in addition to centrifuge testing in order to reveal the micro-mechanical processes underpinning the macroscopic foundation behaviour. This new knowledge was used to develop new prediction methods for the installation requirements such as installation torque.

DEM simulation of a screw pile penetration
DEM simulation of a screw pile penetration

Research group

Infrastructure Group

Affiliate research group


Coordinator of Year 2 for the Civil Engineering MEng

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Book Chapters


Lecturing Geology for Engineers in module CENV1027

Dr Benjamin Cerfontaine
Engineering, University of Southampton, Bolderwood campus, Southampton. SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

Room Number : 178/3017

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