Innovation key to solving transport’s emissions puzzle
Transport underpins society as we know it. It connects people, enables cultures to evolve, and powers economic growth.
However, the sector has a carbon emissions problem. It is the only major European economic sector in which carbon emissions have increased since 1990, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). Even with reduction measures currently planned by EU member states, domestic transport emissions won’t drop below 1990 levels until 2029.
Those are only projections, and a lot still hinges on gains that could be made through innovative thinking and the adoption of new technologies.
Construction companies such as Skanska are uniquely placed to help communities achieve some of those gains, whether through civil projects that better enable walking, cycling or the use of public transport. And as we build such projects, we can work to reduce climate impact by engaging with our supply chains to request, develop and test low-emission technologies.
As an international business, 9 percent of our value chain carbon emissions come from fuels for machinery and on-site transport. A large proportion of these can be cut by careful coordination. We are identifying and implementing new ways to use artificial intelligence to better plan logistics at our machine parks. And our own fleet now includes between 700-800 electric crew cars.
In a further step, we work to optimize the removal of materials from civil projects, shortening distances where possible to reduce the need for transport.
Materials account for around half of our value chain emissions, which can be reduced significantly by utilising new technologies, such as low-carbon concrete, asphalt and steel.
Increasing pace of innovation
Randi Lekanger, Director of Sustainability and Environment at Skanska Norway, says sustainable change requires many stakeholders to work together. “Through all our projects, we aim to make it easier for people to take part in a sustainable lifestyle that can benefit both health and the climate,” she says. “But the pace of innovation has to increase as well, and we contribute to that as best we can by initiating and prioritizing research and development projects together with the value chain and other partners.”
Projects often become testbeds for new methods, which is fundamental to unlocking progress. The E16 Åsbygda-Olum road project in Norway opened in December 2021, comprising of a new 10.4 km two-laned road with a central crash barrier and overtaking lanes, plus county and forest roads, new junctions and 15 bridges.
Large bridges were shortened to cut the use of concrete, and the team used excavated rock where possible. The design team also adjusted the vertical curvature of the road to optimize the use of materials. Separating environmentally hazardous alum shale from usable rock reduced the amount of excavated alum shale by 3,300 truckloads – saving NOK 40 million in transport costs and 675 tonnes of carbon emissions. Meanwhile, a bonus program encouraged suppliers of other materials to cut their own emissions.
Together, the measures cut the project’s embodied carbon emissions by 37,000 tonnes CO2 equivalent, or about 39 percent compared with comparable projects. Almost all excavated materials were reused, and 1,710 tonnes of waste was diverted from landfill. The methods significantly cut landfill tax and transportation costs, proving “that climate and economy can go hand in hand,” Randi says.
Many of these methods are replicable and have been used before. At the Rv3/25 Løten-Elverum project, also in Norway, the team was able to cut the average transport distance of excavated material by almost a quarter, equaling a reduction of 5,700 tonnes of carbon equivalents. The design was optimized to avoid alum shale, which must be transported to regulated deposits. Meanwhile, the team increased the average expected service life for the asphalt wear layer from nine to eleven years, just by increasing the thickness of the binding layer and by using a more robust asphalt formulation.
Successes like these are rapidly incorporated as best practice in Skanska Norway’s management system. Working to transfer knowledge between projects is a vital piece of the puzzle, says Lekanger. Though such advances are cause for optimism, more must be done if ambitious emissions reductions targets are to be met, she adds.
“To succeed with our own ambitions, and help our customers succeed with their sustainability goals, the pace of innovation must increase,” Lekanger concludes. “We are taking on that responsibility. Finding the best solutions together with the customer is the way to go – to create value for everyone: for the customer, the local community and for Skanska.”