It’s Not Easy Being Green: Sustainability in Infrastructure

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
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Ask any architect about their main considerations in the design of a new building and you will likely hear about aesthetic, floor space and context.

What you’ll also likely hear about these days is “sustainability.” This is because the environmental footprint of a building – determined by its relative position to the sun, choice of construction materials and a host of other factors – has direct implications of the structure’s energy consumption and operating costs.

For those in the infrastructure space, the question becomes, “how sustainable are our linear assets?”

After all, it could be said that linear infrastructure — roads and highways, in particular — have the potential to have a larger environmental footprint not only in the construction phase, but also in on-going operations and maintenance of the asset over its 100-year lifespan or more.

But it seems the pendulum may be swinging.

One example comes from Studio Roosegaarde in the Netherlands, where they’re thinking more about the asset itself and less about the traffic that runs on it.

In collaboration with Dutch engineering company Heijmans, Studio Roosegaarde is testing a variety of technologies to help roads and highways become more green and create what they call a “Smart Highway.”

In a pilot on part of highway N329 near Oss, NL, lane markings are created using luminescent green paint where there is no street lighting so roads glow in the dark. Another study is looking at how wind energy created by travelling vehicles can be harnessed to power street lighting. Studio Roosegaarde is also taking the growing popularity of electric vehicles into account and testing electrical vehicle priority lanes where drivers can use induction technology to charge their cars “on the fly.” This has great potential to alleviate the anxiety that drivers of this new technology face.

It’s not only roads and highways that are the focus for Studio Roosegaarde, though. They’ve also designed a bike path in Eindhoven using similar luminescent technology as the N329 project. There, the designers embedded 50,000 fluorescent rocks that charge by day and glow at night. What’s especially cool is that the stretch of pathway closest to Van Gogh’s home glows in the same colour scheme as one of his most famous pieces, Starry Night.

Closer to home, Australia’s largest infrastructure project, the North West Rail Link, is also looking to leverage sustainable technology. Contractors bidding for the project have to demonstrate how they would meet and potentially exceed the project’s sustainability objectives. Some of these targets are linked to carbon emissions, land use, energy efficiency objectives, and even the supply chain. Ultimately this will not only nurture innovation; it will provide stakeholders the best value for their investment, and also set the benchmark for future infrastructure projects.

Clearly there is still much work to be done to make sustainable infrastructure projects more widespread. What’s clear though is that technology fused with innovation will play a big part in helping us meet and exceed environmental targets, which is not only good for the bottom line, but for the planet as well.

By Brett Casson, industry development executive, Transportation & Construction, Autodesk
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