The Australian Government’s commitment to being net-zero by 2050 has ensured that the focus of every industry sector across the country is firmly on reducing emissions. However, as much of the nation’s industry is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, moving to greener, more sustainable alternatives is likely to be a challenge.
For some sectors, the transition is well underway. In energy, renewables now regularly make up 24 per cent of supply, and that figure is climbing year on year. Investors in the sector are familiar with the potential returns on investment and seek supply chain alignment with their future ambition. In the transport sector the journey is only just beginning.
Considering the challenges ahead, the Australian transport sector has collaborated for the first time to find a collective route forward. The result, a report created in an industry-first partnership between the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) and Roads Australia (RA) collaborating with members and domain experts in the sector. The Report –The journey to Net-Zero. Inspiring climate action in the Australian transport sector sets out the future direction for investment in infrastructure and among other things, talks about the transition to new fuels, the complexity of planning and the important role technology needs to play in the sustainable construction of infrastructure.
The transport transition
Solving the problem of the nation’s infrastructure will be critical if the country is to meet its emissions targets. Right now, Australia’s backbone—the roads, rail and energy networks that are at the very foundation of society—are responsible for or linked to nearly 70 per cent of the country’s emissions. And for transport the challenge that lies ahead is significant—at this point in time, the sector causes 20 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
So far, there has been plenty of agreement about the need for change but, as yet no consensus on a solution.
A planning headache
In the face of such uncertainty, there’s a great deal of pressure on transport infrastructure planners, designers and constructors to protect the long-term interests of investors in every project. The right design has the potential to remain operational for decades, whereas the wrong design could lead to a shorter lifecycle and greater emissions—plus, of course, the need for further capital investment in a replacement project. As a result, whole of life planning of an infrastructure asset is critical. Keeping a cap on transport emissions means developing a system that delivers what communities need both now and in the long future.
Using technology keeps infrastructure projects on the rails
Technology is key to getting it right. With the right system, a designer can visualise a project and assess its impact on the environment. Construction teams from head contractors to specialty contractors’ can adopt technology to capture and report the source and production processes associated with raw materials and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a project. Such systems also unlock the ability to take advantage of modern methods of construction techniques like Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), in which raw materials can be assembled in a warehouse and transported to the construction site—making the build faster, cheaper and safer.
In any project with numerous stakeholders operating from design, construction and facility management, the emphasis needs to shift beyond the handover of a completed asset. Project stakeholders must consider emissions over the entire lifetime of operation and take into account the costs and embodied emissions associated with downcycling, disassembly and demolition. With the benefit of the right technology, these can all be considered during the design phase, meaning there are no nasty surprises for the asset owner down the track.
As a case study presented in the report Mott Macdonald who is collaborating with Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) is applying Building Information Management (BIM) to aid in the planning process and deliver cost-effective solutions to any challenges the project encountered. By managing the flow of information effectively throughout the design and construction process, BIM methodology and standardisation was able to unlock significant value. As a result, TfNSW is currently looking at embedding BIM across its key business functions.
As well as improving communication throughout the design and construction of infrastructure assets, technology also has much to offer the transport industry. The models it can develop improve the way costs are forecast and managed and, therefore, ensure budgets are more accurate. The industry is demanding ways to reduce the risks and delays in the construction process, whilst improving the way project tasks are scheduled and sequenced to streamline the facility-management process. The end result is striving for an increased productivity, lower cost and lower-emission activities delivered in the sector.
Applying the use of technology throughout the process of planning, designing, constructing and maintaining transport infrastructure aligning to emissions reductions will progress our agenda for a net zero future in unison with the investment sector, Government and infrastructure supply chain.