This article presents a fundamental study on the role of particle breakage on the shear behavior of granular soils using the three-dimensional (3-D) discrete element method. The effects of particle breakage on the stress ratio, volumetric strain, plastic deformation, and shear failure behavior of dense crushable specimens undergoing plane strain shearing conditions are thoroughly investigated through a variety of micromechanical analyses and mechanism demonstrations. The simulation of a granular specimen is based on the effective modeling of realistic fracture behavior of single soil particles, which is demonstrated by the qualitative agreement between the results from platen compression simulations and those from physical laboratory tests.
The simulation results show that the major effects of particle breakage include the reduction of volumetric dilation and peak stress ratio and more importantly the plastic deformation mechanisms and the shear failure modes vary as a function of soil crushability. Consistent macro- and micromechanical evidence demonstrates that shear banding and massive volumetric contraction depict the two end failure modes of a dense specimen, which is dominated by particle rearrangement–induced dilation and particle crushing–induced compression, respectively, with a more general case being the combination and competition of the two failure modes in the medium range of soil crushability and confining stress. However, it is further shown that a highly crushable specimen will eventually develop a shear band at a large strain because of the continuous decay of particle breakage. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.