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Smart road construction for improved climate impact

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from road construction projects with the aid of a new database developed by a research project at the University of Agder.

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Photo of road
Associate Professor Reyn O’Born has cooperated with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration on efforts to reduce emissions related to the construction and maintenance of roads (photo: Colourbox).

“Reduction of emissions and environmentally friendly measures for road projects can start already when contractors submit road construction tenders”, says Associate Professor Reyn O’Born at the Department of Engineering Sciences at the University of Agder (UiA).

Reyn O’Born er førsteamanuensis ved Institutt for ingeniørvitskap ved UiA.

Reyn O’Born is associate professor at the Department of Engineering Sciences at UiA.

He recently defended his doctoral dissertation on new strategies for more environmentally friendly road building. The title of the dissertation is ‘Strategies and solutions for including life cycle emissions in planning Norwegian road infrastructure’.

O’Born followed the PhD programme at the Faculty of Engineering and Science specialising in renewable energy. The doctoral research was funded by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

In cooperation with the Public Roads Administration, he developed a database which will help in the tendering stages. The database provides an overview of the life cycle of materials and processes needed in the planning and implementation of road construction projects.

“10-12 percent of Norway’s state budget is spent on road construction, infrastructure and maintenance. So, it is important that this is done with the least possible emissions and waste. That is why a system is needed to point out what work processes and which materials yield the most environmental benefit over time”, says O’Born.

Environmental database for sustainable planning

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration has books containing codes for every single product and every single process in a road construction project. The codes indicate the requirements to how they are used and how to take the specific steps in a process.

What is new about the system developed by O’Born is a database holding data on all materials and processes which will make it easier for contractors to choose environmentally friendly options. At the same time, it will be easier for the Public Roads Administration to see which of the contractors is best at environmentally friendly road development.

Life cycle assessment of the materials provides a complete picture of the total environmental impact from raw material extraction, through materials processing and use to waste management, transport, and energy use.

“The information in the database gives the Roads Administration a better basis for assessing and comparing how climate-friendly the offers from the contractors are”, says O’Born.

Reducing emissions by 40 percent

The cooperation with O’Born is part of the Public Roads Administration’s efforts to implement and develop cleaner technologies, fuels, materials and processes.

20 percent of the annual global carbon emissions come from construction work. By the year 2030, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent. The largest emissions are associated with major road projects.

“On a typical project, around one third of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the use of diesel in construction equipment and the transport of construction materials and waste. Two thirds of the emissions come from the production of materials, for example concrete, steel and asphalt”, the researcher says.

By choosing contractors who use the right materials and work processes, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration could help Norway achieve its climate targets.

Facilitating innovation

The life cycle assessments used in O’Born’s research have shown that calculating the environmental footprint of a road project can be useful. Currently, however, they are not sufficiently robust or user-friendly to be useful during road planning.

“We can reach Norway’s climate goals with simple measures. Our infrastructure planning must be smarter, and we must have a better overview earlier in the process. The government should be more ambitious and facilitate innovation in the construction industry”, says O’Born.

The government may, for example, offer incentives to businesses. This will allow contractors to choose materials and implement processes that generate less emissions.